The disgraceful exit of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif under the cloud of a corruption case has once again exposed the vulnerability of civilian governments in a country remote-controlled by its army. No Prime Minister had ever completed the full term in Pakistan’s political history. It is for the first time that an incumbent Prime Minister has been sacked on charges of corruption. Sharif’s third term in office came to an unceremonious end as the Supreme Court disqualified him from office with immediate effect in the Panama Papers scam after a probe revealed that his family had amassed illegal wealth. The unanimous verdict by a five-judge bench has triggered a political earthquake in the country and raised questions over political stability with the general elections still a year away. Seen as a landmark judgement that may be a game changer in the nation’s turbulent politics, the judges ruled that Sharif had been dishonest to Parliament and the courts and hence was not fit to hold office. The judgement was based on the report of a court-appointed joint investigation team (JIT) that indicted Sharif’s family on several counts — from perjury and faking documents to hiding their sources of wealth and living beyond their means. The court also dismissed Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, one of Sharif’s closest allies credited with steering the economy to its fastest pace of growth in a decade. Three of Sharif’s four children — Maryam, his presumptive political heir, and his sons Hasan and Hussein — were implicated in the Panama Papers.
At the heart of the case is the legitimacy of the funds used by Sharif’s family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies. The disqualification has plunged Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) into a deep crisis. Run largely like a family fiefdom, the ruling party now faces the danger of disintegration. In his tumultuous career, Sharif became Prime Minister for a record three times, but every time he was forced to quit in the middle of his term — first by the presidency, then the military and now sacked by the judiciary. India has every reason to be worried over the deepening political instability in Pakistan. A stable, elected government in Islamabad will be in the interest of India because it is easier to deal with a democratically elected dispensation. A weakened civilian government would allow the military establishment gain an upper hand to control the levers of power. Given the simmering tensions with the Sharif government, the army will now be eager to gain a firm grip over the country’s affairs without making an explicit bid for power. Already, it exerts disproportionate control over foreign policy and defence matters.