Pak­istani

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PAMELA CON­STA­BLE AND SHAIQ HUS­SAIN

Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif nar­rowly avoided an ouster in a court rul­ing on cor­rup­tion claims, but judges or­dered fur­ther probes into his fam­ily’s fi­nan­cial deal­ings.

islamabad, pak­istan — Af­ter months of le­gal wran­gling and po­lit­i­cal melo­drama, Pak­istan’s Supreme Court ruled nar­rowly Thurs­day that Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif could keep his job but or­dered a fur­ther investigation into charges that he and his fam­ily had hid­den as­sets through off­shore tax havens.

In a split de­ci­sion, three jus­tices found there was not enough ev­i­dence of fi­nan­cial or other mis­deeds to re­move the premier from of­fice, though two mem­bers dis­agreed. All five raised ques­tions about the source of funds for sev­eral Lon­don apart­ments owned by the Sharif fam­ily, which was never fully ex­plained in court.

Sharif and his sup­port­ers greeted his nar­row re­prieve with vis­i­ble joy and re­lief. His adult daugh­ter Maryam, whose fi­nan­cial role in the apart­ments was a fo­cus of the case, tweeted photos of fam­ily and aides hug­ging and grin­ning. TV news footage showed sup­port­ers danc­ing and giv­ing away candy.

“We are grate­ful to God for grant­ing us this vic­tory,” De­fense Min­is­ter Khawaja Asif told jour­nal­ists out­side the Supreme Court. “It hap­pened be­cause mil­lions of Pak­ista­nis were pray­ing for their prime min­is­ter, their true leader.” He vowed that Sharif, 67, would win elec­tion in 2018.

The caus­ti­cally worded, 540page rul­ing fell short of dis­qual­i­fy­ing Sharif from of­fice, as his op­po­nents had sought. It al­lows him to lead his party, the Pak­istan Mus­lim League-N, to com­pete in elec­tions. But it left him po­lit­i­cally di­min­ished, his party vul­ner­a­ble and the odor of shoddy fi­nan­cial prac­tices in the air, cre­at­ing a per­fect tar­get for op­po­nents.

“Nawaz Sharif isn’t off the hook yet, but given how con­cerned the gov­ern­ment was about Sharif get­ting dis­qual­i­fied, it could have been much worse,” said Michael Kugel­man, a Pak­istan ex­pert at the Woodrow Wil­son In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Schol­ars in Wash­ing­ton. “The gov­ern­ment re­ceived a fairly hard slap on the wrist, but ul­ti­mately it sur­vived.”

Im­ran Khan, the op­po­si­tion leader and former cricket star who was Sharif’s prin­ci­pal ac­cuser, is­sued a state­ment con­grat­u­lat­ing the court but de­manded that Sharif step down, say­ing he has “no moral author­ity” to re­main as prime min­is­ter.

The court’s skep­ti­cism was re­flected in the open­ing lines of the verdict, which re­ferred to the epi­graph in Mario Puzo’s novel “The God­fa­ther” — “Be­hind ev­ery great for­tune there is a crime.” It added the full orig­i­nal quote, from French novelist Honoré de Balzac, which said that the se­cret be­hind great but un­ac­counted for­tunes is “a crime that was never found out, be­cause it was prop­erly ex­e­cuted.”

The Sharif case, the rul­ing said, “re­volves around that very sen­tence.” The court or­der listed a num­ber of ques­tions about the Sharif fam­ily’s fi­nances that it said “need to be an­swered.” The Shar­ifs and their at­tor­neys pre­sented nu­mer­ous ver­sions of how var­i­ous prop­er­ties had been bought and sold.

The court’s de­ci­sion brought an or­derly end­ing to the year-long po­lit­i­cal and le­gal cir­cus that has con­sumed the na­tion since last April, when Pak­istan was cited in the “Panama Pa­pers,”a trove of leaked doc­u­ments, as one of sev­eral coun­tries whose lead­ers were said to have hid­den as­sets off­shore. Sharif de­nied the charges and vowed in an emo­tional speech that he would “re­sign im­me­di­ately” if found guilty of wrong­do­ing.

The le­gal pe­ti­tion against Sharif was spear­headed by Khan, who led bois­ter­ous street ral­lies call­ing for his ouster. In Oc­to­ber, he threat­ened to shut down the cap­i­tal with swarms of pro­test­ers but backed off af­ter the high court agreed to take up the case.

Mean­while, the mood through dozens of le­gal hear­ings veered from con­fronta­tional to comic. Khan de­nounced Sharif as a liar and a crook. Sharif pro­duced a let­ter from a friendly Per­sian Gulf prince swear­ing that he had paid for the Lon­don apart­ments. Jus­tices rolled their eyes, asked sharp ques­tions and quoted Shake­speare.

“There are two dif­fer­ent money trails be­fore us,” Jus­tice Asif Saeed Khosa noted dur­ing a re­cent hear­ing. “How did the money go from Jeddah and then to Lon­don? How did the money go from Dubai to Lon­don and then Qatar?”

Thurs­day’s rul­ing in­cluded a list of sim­i­lar is­sues that the jus­tices in­structed in­ves­ti­ga­tors to pur­sue. They asked how Sharif’s then-young chil­dren could have pur­chased the Lon­don prop­er­ties in the 1990s, whether the letters from the Qatari prince were “a myth or a re­al­ity,” and what was the source of “huge sums” the Shar­ifs de­scribed as gifts.

Sharif, a three-time premier who won praise for push­ing eco­nomic devel­op­ment and reach­ing out to archri­val In­dia, has seen his ef­forts over­shad­owed by the cor­rup­tion case as well as a surge in Is­lamist ter­ror­ist at­tacks and wors­en­ing con­fronta­tions with In­dia.

Be­yond the feud be­tween Sharif and Khan, there was a larger is­sue at stake: a power strug­gle be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and the ju­di­ciary that gave the pub­lic hope for change in a weak demo­cratic sys­tem that has of­ten been un­der­mined by the army.

Mil­lions of Pak­ista­nis, poor and pow­er­less, wanted to see cor­rup­tion pun­ished and the courts act with in­de­pen­dence, but many held out lit­tle hope. “Noth­ing will come out of this drama,” pre­dicted a per­son us­ing the nickname “asad” whose com­ment was in a list of online re­sponses to a Dawn news­pa­per chronol­ogy of the case last week. “This is an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity.”

Yet here was a also sense of un­ease about what would hap­pen if Sharif were forced to step down. Even his de­trac­tors did not want to see an­other mil­i­tary coup or risk sour­ing re­la­tions with a new and un­pre­dictable ad­min­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

With Sharif still in of­fice but chas­tised, an­a­lysts called Thurs­day’s rul­ing a vic­tory for Pak­istani democ­racy, with a prime min­is­ter en­dur­ing a long le­gal process and all sides ac­cept­ing the verdict. “Given the deep le­gacy of mil­i­tary rule in Pak­istan, this isn’t some­thing to take lightly,” Kugel­man said.

ARIF ALI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Sup­port­ers of Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif rally in La­hore af­ter Pak­istan’s Supreme Court granted Sharif a tem­po­rary re­prieve, say­ing there was in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to oust him from power.

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