ISLAMABAD - The speculation windmill in the political circles and whispers in the power corridors of Islamabad and Rawalpindi are suddenly in sync: the fate of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s stay in power is sealed as a result of the proceedings of the probe of the Joint Investigation Team constituted by the Supreme Court.

It is just a matter of weeks now, they say.

More than a year after the revelations in the so-called Panama Papers rattled the globe and forced several political leaders to resign, Mr Sharif’s attempts to forestall the inevitable seem to have come to naught. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court justices stopped short of removing the prime minister but it was evident from the formation of the probe team, comprising of civil and military investigators, that the cards were heavily stacked against the prime minister. The ruling party’s media spokespersons tried desperately to paint the proceedings as biased and pre-determined. Leaks allegedly coming from the investigators added to the widespread perception that the ruling family had failed to account for their overseas wealth. Over the weekend, Mr Sharif appeared before a coterie of familiar and preferred journalists in London and reiterated his old defence. The probe against his family was nothing more than a political witch-hunt and personal vendetta of his opponents, the prime minister said with a visibly sullen face. “The real JIT will be 2018 elections,” he said in what sounded like conceding defeat even before the probe team has furnished its findings before the Supreme Court.

If the premonitions of the ruling party and indications from the JIT are any measure, the Supreme Court will hold Mr Sharif unfit to rule by the end of this month. And, thereafter, we are heading into a time of political tumult and political uncertainty.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League can either choose a new prime minister or call for snap elections. However, the probability of PML-N calling for a national vote before the Senate elections remains low. Even though Mr Sharif seemed predisposed to an adverse SC ruling, he had nonetheless expressed the resolve to put up a determined fight.

Several names are being tossed around for the interim prime minister, including Ahsan Iqbal, who has good terms both with the military establishment and the Chinese; Khurram Dastgir-Khan, a soft-spoken politician with an untainted repute.

The problem for the ‘powers to be’ is that even if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is ousted, the political entity of Nawaz Sharif cannot be just wiped off. The former army chief Pervez Musharraf could not manage to do so despite having a strong ten-year grip on power. How will the current string pullers – who rely on electronic media leaks and social media trends — ensure erasing PML-N from the political landscape?

That hope is the comforting thought for the current ruling party as it contemplates entering into the elections under Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif’s leadership in a post-Nawaz as PM scenario.

For Imran Khan, the removal of Nawaz Sharif as PM will undoubtedly come as a huge moral and political victory. Through dogged persistence and unwavering determination, Imran Khan kept hammering the Panama Papers scandal into the national psyche. It is also a fact that some elements of the deep state provided a cushion to Imran’s constant – and sometimes dwindling – efforts. But the real challenges for the PTI leader is to convert this political victory into an electoral one. The recent rush of some politicians is indicative of a realisation by some that holding a PPP ticket in the national elections is a kiss of death. Asif Ali Zardari’s efforts to keep his crumbling party in order has met a failure, forcing him to leave the country shortly after the much-trumpeted attempts to revive the party.

Also, the establishment nudged some politicians to join PTI as it tries to tip the balance of power. Imran Khan will gain a major chunk of votes in Punjab but PTI remains hobbled by its lack of organisation in Sindh and Balochistan.

A hung parliament, therefore, seems inevitable in the current political calculus.

While the Panama Papers scandal is expected to end the reign of Mr Sharif, it remains unclear what institutional mechanisms against systemic and endemic corruption in the state machinery will emerge from this mainly political struggle. Will it usher the country into a new dawn of accountability and transparency or drag it further into power struggles and backroom intrigues?

If Mr Sharif remains the only casualty and other civilian and former military rulers escape accountability, the whole struggle of the past year will lose its shine and sheen. The 2007 Lawyers Movement ended up just removing Pervez Musharraf from power and fell short of all other vaunted promises of reform and change. The current political struggle risks the same fate.