A landmark verdict by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday may have cleared a historical grey area, but has not left the country’s present-day ruling structure unscathed.

The ruling in question relates to allegations surrounding Pakistan’s elections in 1990, suggesting that General Aslam Beg, the Army Chief of Staff at the time, along with Lieutenant General Asad Durrani, head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had teamed up with a group of politicians. As a result of this partnership, the parliamentary elections were allegedly rigged.

Those elections had brought former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to power in Islamabad for the first time, while conclusively defeating former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, just months after her government’s dismissal on allegations of corruption.

More than two decades later, Pakistan has fortunately reconciled itself with one of the many dark chapters in its political history. Though belatedly for the late Benazir, the Supreme Court’s verdict marks a much needed vindication of her oft-repeated claim that she had been unjustly dismissed from office, just 20 months after becoming the Muslim world’s first woman to head a government.

The verdict now also sets the pace for a more restrained role in politics by the army and/or intelligence services. Not unexpectedly, the verdict has been widely hailed by leaders of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), now led by President Asif Zardari, Benazir’s widower.

However, the verdict also sets in motion a series of challenging questions for Pakistan’s ruling class. On the one hand, there are profoundly difficult questions for Sharif, who, according to Supreme Court documents, received a hefty sum of money as leader of his ‘Islami Jamhoori Ittehad’ or Islamic Democratic Alliance.

He went on to replace Benazir as the Prime Minister and now continues as the leader of Pakistan’s main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N). Aspiring to become Pakistan’s Prime Minister for a third time, following his two terms of office in the 1990s, Sharif must be confronted with extremely uneasy questions over his past conduct.

The Supreme Court ruling sets in motion some difficult and challenging questions for Sharif’s ability to continue claiming a high moral ground, unless he can first clear his own past. While Pakistan’s main federal investigation body, known as the FIA, has been assigned to investigate the matter, the issue is more political than legal.

Going forward, the outcome of this investigation will only underscore a vital point, which is essentially that Pakistan’s democracy deserves to progress freely without any curbs. At the same time, the verdict must also be an important eye-opener for the way Pakistan’s politics seems to be progressing under President Zardari.

His decision to carry on as the Head of State, while also effectively running the PPP from the well-protected environment of Islamabad’s presidential high palace, needs to be scrutinised aggressively. For years, critics have argued that Zardari’s position as Pakistan’s Head of State - a neutral office - has been badly compromised through his choice of turning his official residence into effectively the highest office of the PPP.

At the heart of the Supreme Court’s verdict lies the powerfully argued case against the use of the highest office for partisan purposes and thereby compromising its integrity and neutrality. Going forward, while the FIA investigates individuals named in the court’s ruling, the move must also underscore the degree to which there needs to be an aggressive scrutiny too of the use of Pakistan’s presidency for political purposes.

While a historical wrong may have been rectified by the Supreme Court’s verdict, the matter will fail to rest there conclusively, unless it is immediately related to Pakistan’s present-day environment.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, it is now essential for Pakistan’s PPP-led ruling structure to work aggressively towards reviewing a full range of vital political questions. A new page must be turned in Pakistan’s politics, where the Supreme Court has indeed allowed the opportunity for the first vital step to be taken.

However, to ensure that a sorry tale in Pakistan’s past politics must never be repeated, there is an urgent need to ensure that political choices for the future are devoid of controversy. Though the PPP and Zardari in the first instance may have celebrated the Supreme Court’s verdict, the burden of responsibility falls as much on their shoulders as on other players across the board, in overseeing a badly needed maturity in Pakistan’s politics.

The writer is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reproduced from the Gulf News.