Panama leaks and accountability

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Malik Ashraf

THE political landscape of the country looks quite muddled in the backdrop of the SC decision in the Panama case to form JIT and the developments that have taken place thereafter. The reservation expressed by the Sharif family about two members of the JIT, allegations of harassment by cousin of the Prime Minister Tariq Shafi, the revelation about selection of the members through WhatsApp, complaints by JIT about non-cooperation by some government departments as well as tampering of record by them, categorical repudiation of the JIT claims by the concerned departments, leakage of the picture of Hussain Nawaz and the position taken by the ruling party and the opposition, particularly PTI have not only dented the credibility of the JIT but have politicised the entire exercise. While the SC has not addressed the reservations of the Sharif family about JIT it has ostensibly thrown its weight behind the latter by having the allegations about tampering of record by SECP probed by a four member committee. That is a step fraught with great dangers. If the findings of the committee corroborate the position taken by the SECP, the entire exercise will become a farce instead of accountability and the position of JIT will be seriously undermined. And if the allegations of the JIT are corroborated by the committee it could have even more serious consequences.
The Prime Minister while talking to the media in London, for the first time spoke his mind about JIT and the motives behind Panama case. Reportedly he said “JIT has been formed as a political project to discredit me through a legal stamp in order to engineer the political landscape in favour of my opponents who lost elections in 2013 and were headed for the same fate in 2018. Attempts are afoot to help such elements who have no chance through fair elections. The JIT tasked by SC for probe into the Panama Leaks is a joke and not the accountability. The kind of people who have appeared before JIT as witnesses are our worst political enemies and it asked them for help” What the Prime Minister has said cannot be dismissed lightly.
The media also has been revealing things that have created a myriad of doubts about the JIT. The Whatsapp story about the selection of the JIT members, to start with, raised many eye brows regarding the motive behind such a ploy. Yet another report appearing in the media reveals that JIT was hijacked before its constitution and someone had started work for it even before its setting up by the SC. According to this report” Who is running the show on behalf of JIT is not yet known but the JIT complaint regarding obstructions being created in its functioning submitted on June 12 revealed some unbelievable facts about JIT’s pre-birth work”. A senior lawyer Bilal Soofi speaking in a TV talk show said that the induction of officials of the agencies in the JIT showed political aspect.
The opposition parties, particularly PTI notwithstanding the foregoing developments is showing solidarity with the JIT and has already threatened to take to the streets. That leaves no doubt about the fact that Panama Leaks case has become a highly politicised case. Whatever the final decision of the court in this regard it surely is going to have very serious repercussions for the country and the Judiciary itself might not emerge unscathed from the episode.
Some circles believe that the SC should not have entertained the petitions of the political parties in the first place as the case was of criminal nature and it did not have original jurisdiction in such matters. The case required investigation and prosecution by the state institutions and all those named in the Panama Leaks should have been included in the probe. Circumventing that legal process in itself raises many doubts about the whole process. It is further argued by some circles in the intelligentsia that the acceptance of the petitions of the political parties by the SC after initially refusing the request of the Prime Minister for the formation of a Judicial Commission to probe the case, maintaining that the existing law was not adequate enough to hold such a probe and a new law was required, had also added to the suspicions about the motives behind the probe only against the Sharif family in spite of the fact that the name of the Prime Minister was not even mentioned in the Panama Leaks.
I think the SC even now can take a corrective action by setting up a Judicial Commission to hold a comprehensive probe into the Panama Leaks. As is said it is never too late. The independence and credibility of the JIT and the SC itself is at stake in the prevailing circumstances. Therefore the SC must do something to extricate itself from political imbroglio to make sure that justice was not only done but was also seen to be done.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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