Two weeks from now, Pakistan will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its independence. And although the most common analysis that follows Friday’s disqualification of its elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is that no civilian prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term in power, the fact is the Supreme Court’s 5-0 verdict was the outcome of a legal process conducted in the full media glare. Some may insist that the Court was fully within its rights to strike down the Sharif family’s defence. But others argue it was not in the Court’s place to also disqualify him from his prime ministership, as that is the job of Parliament.
The Pakistan Supreme Court was accused of “judicial dictatorship” when it sacked prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in 2012, after he refused to allow an investigation into the sources of then president Asif Ali Zardari’s income. On the eve of this judgment, on Twitter, well-known human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir scolded the Court asking why two of the five-judges hadn’t heard the full case against Nawaz Sharif. While she now agrees that Nawaz Sharif must step down, she stubbornly points out that “this decision will haunt the Court in times to come”. No matter. In such a fragile democracy as Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif need not have opened himself up to accusations of corruption. His daughter and political heir, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, submitted forged documents in defence of her father in the Calibri font that never existed when the flats were bought. The fact the law has now caught up certainly demonstrates a deepening of democracy.
The best news is despite the speculation of its involvement behind the purdah, the army never once came out and showed its hand. In October 1999, months after Kargil, Nawaz Sharif was summarily shown the door by Musharraf. Today the army has kept quiet. The PM has been asked to step down by the Supreme Court. That in itself, is a major step forward. There are many stakeholders at this critical juncture: The political opposition from Imran Khan’s PTI to Sharif’s own party, the judiciary, civil society institutions, the National Accountability Bureau to which the cases have been transferred, and, of course, the army. How each one of them responds will shape the very contours of democracy in Pakistan.