Imran Khan’s Tireless Campaign Not Panama Leaks Paved Way For Judicial Coup


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Sumera B. Reshi

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The military coup is an outdated strategy to control the establishment, however, the army in Pakistan has been very creative in toppling the elected governments and politicians alike what can called as a “judicial coup”.

Since four years, Imran Khan has been campaigning against Sharief’s dismissal. He centred his politics on one man’s ouster, from the street agitation to court petitions; he was all against dynastic rule of Sharief family. Khan has long been alleged to be a stooge for Pakistan’s powerful institution – the Army. Khan’s tireless effort to ouster Sharief from holding PMs Post is just a tip of an iceberg, there lies much more behind Sharief’s dismissal.  Political analysts maintain that a powerful invisible hand or institution but not Supreme Court of Pakistan unseated Sharief from his Premiership.  This powerful force not only took away Sharief’s premiership but declared him insufficient for the post in what can be called as ‘judicial coup’. 

After a yearlong uproar from the opposition and media, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Nawaz Sharief on the charges of being dishonest and hiding his assets. Sharief wasn’t unseated because of Panama papers but the Supreme Court charged him of withholding his Dubai-based employment in his nomination papers for the 2013 general elections.  However, Panama leaks set a base for his dismissal and acted as a catalyst to speed up the wave against his resignation and ouster. 

This is the third time; Sharief became sore of an eye and pungent plague for the army. He tried hard to mend relations with India and Afghanistan. The moment he resumed office as PM of   Pakistan in 2013, he tried to establish civilian authority in areas that had long been dominated by generals, especially foreign policy.  He pursued conciliatory policies towards both the neighbors but his stance vis a vis foreign policy was indigestible for the army. A ploy was launched against him using Judiciary and charges of corruption to get rid of him.  These allegations made him the second Prime Minister to be ousted over Panama leaks after Iceland’s Sigmundur David.

In Pakistan’s 70 years of history, not a single PM has completed five-year tenure thus far. Sadly, this is Sharief’s third premature exit. In his tumultuous political career, Sharief has seen many adversities. He was forced to resign by the military establishment in 1993 and a full-fledged army coup in 1999.  This time, Sharief was abandoned by the judicial coup. Even though Sharief wasn’t named in the Panama leaks and there was no evidence that he abused public office for private gain, he was disqualified for being dishonest – the verdict which surprised all sane people across the legal fraternity in Pakistan. 

Over the past few years, the judiciary of Pakistan has increasingly asserted its independence but it has an appalling record of defending democracy against authoritarian interventions.

Throughout the Pakistan’s democratic journey, the Supreme Court has legalized Pakistan’s all successful military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999 under what can be called as ‘doctrine of necessity’.

Judges in Pakistan have become authoritative and media-courting populists.  Even they haven’t shied away joining hands with the military by using allegations of corruption against popularly elected politicians. Take an example of June 2012 when the Supreme Court, headed by Iftikhar Chaudhry as the chief justice, convicted and disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for contempt after he refused to conform to a court order to reopen a dormant corruption inquiry against President Asif Ali Zardari.

In May 2011, Yousuf Raza Gilani was put on the chopping block after he openly criticized the army for being ‘a state within a state’.  There has been a tussle and hidden agreements between the army and the judiciary in Pakistan. In March 2007, relations severed between Gen. Pervaiz Musharaff and Justice Iftikhar Choudhry over judicial investigations into military’s illegal detention of terror suspects. In reaction, Gen. Musharaff fired Justice Choudhry which led to countrywide protests by the lawyers and legal fraternity against the military rule. 

Under the severe pressure, Justice Choudhry was restored back as Chief Justice of Pakistan but was fired later on along with 60 other judges in another dispute with the General. Soon after the second departure of Justice Choudhry, resentment against Gen. Musharaff grew larger and louder which ultimately led to his downfall.

 With the end of Gen. Musharaff’s military rule, PPP led by Yousuf Raza Gilani formed a new civilian government in February 2008. Yet Prime Minister Gilani didn’t restore Justice Choudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan fearing he might reopen the inquiry against Asif Ali Zardari. Vehement and lurid protests by the opposition and an open challenge from Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, forced Gilani to reinstall Justice Choudhry and other judges back into their place.

Once Justice Choudhry got back to the office, he fixed his strained relations with the army. This time, he quickly acceded to Gen. Kiyani’s demand of investigating allegations by the Pakistani – American businessman against Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan’s ambassador to the USA. The allegations were that Haqqani had written a memo seeking American assistance in preventing a military coup.  Happily, Justice Choudhry supported the army by terming the memo being authentic and accused Haqqani of disloyalty.

 However, the judiciary headed by Justice Choudhry never persecuted a single army official for human rights violations. A senior intelligence officer was charged with kidnapping a civilian, but the court confined the police from taking any action against the official. The judiciary showed great restraint in convicting an intelligence officer; nonetheless, the same judiciary exhibited utmost enthusiasm in dismissing an elected prime minister. The Supreme Court proceedings vis a vis Panama leaks have been murky from the very beginning.  The five member bench who was at the helm of investigations into Sharief’s case came up with the divergent decision. Three judges were in favor of investigating the matter, while as two judges called for absolute disqualification of Nawaz Sharief.

Furthermore, it was reported that the judges selected to investigate into this matter were actually members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), including one with close ties to Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf, as was concurred by the former TeI president.

 Not only this, the judge’s also included two officials from the military intelligence and ISI in the team investigating Sharief’s assets. Additionally, the judges also ignored the Sharief family’s complaints of witness harassment and illegal spying.

However, it is obvious Sharief was not dismissed mainly for corruption but at the core lies military interventionism which army can’t restrain from.

In a yearlong tussle, judges at the time of verdict have undermined the perception of justice by dismissing Sharief without due process or trial to prove his innocence. Nevertheless, in the hate triangle, Imran Khan is going to benefit from the ouster of Sharief. Khan surely is an undeniable political winner in the great game of power because he spearheaded the campaign and paved way for a judicial coup in collaboration with the powerful powerhouse of Pakistan.

 The author is a freelance journalist reports on South Asia affairs for The Legitimate


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