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Panamagate: The 'Exitgate' for Nawaz Sharif
Although, Nawaz Sharif holds the record of being Pakistan's Prime Minister thrice but he has never completed his tenure in office.

During his first tenure (6 November 1990 - 18 April 1993) he was dismissed from office on corruption charges and during his second term (17 February 1997 to 12 October 1999) he was ousted by General Pervez  Musharraf in a military coup.

And now in the midst of his third term, which had began on June 5, 2013, he was disqualified today (July 28, 2017) from holding public office as well from the Parliament by the Supreme Court of Pakistan for being involved in the Panamagate scandal.  

Nawaz Sharif has also been declared by the Supreme Court as "dishonest under" the Constitution and was found unfit for holding office. He was also disqualified for failing to disclose his un-withdrawn receivables constituting assets from UAE-based Capital FZE in his nomination papers for the 2013 elections.

Along with Nawaz Sharif, his son-in-law Capt (Retd) Muhammad Safdar and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar were also declared unfit for their respective offices.

The Supreme Court further ordered that all material collected by the joint investigation team (JIT) tasked with probing the Sharif family's financial dealings be sent to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) within six weeks for further investigation and within six months a judgment to be pronounced.  

Within few hours of the Supreme Court's verdict against him, Nawaz Sharif resigned from the post of Prime Minister, dissolved his Cabinet and Speaker National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq assumed the responsibility as the interim prime minister.

While supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and some other opposition parties celebrated the removal of Nawaz Sharif from the office, in Lahore, supporters of Nawaz Sharif burnt tyres and blocked traffic at several places in the city against the verdict.

The ruling PML(N) has decided to utilise all legal and constitutional means to contest the verdict and feels that the "requirements for a fair and just trail were badly violated". State Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb convened a press conference immediately after the anti-Nawaz judgment and declared that the day was not far when Nawaz Sharif would be chosen as Prime Minister for the fourth time.  

Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Nawaz Sharif declared that her father would return with greater force with the support of people. Meanwhile, Punjab Law Minister Rana Bahaullah  stated  that it was a difficult time for the PML-N,  but the power to make party decisions will remain with Nawaz Sharif.

Former Chief of Pakistan army and President of chief of All Pakistan Muslim League, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf also reacted over the removal of Nawaz Sharif and described it as a "good decision" which will bring positive impact in the country. He also congratulated the entire nation on the court`s verdict.

Imran Khan, Chief of PTI who was one of the three petitioners in the case described the verdict against Nawaz Sharif as "just a beginning" as others too would be held accountable. He also  announced to observe 'Thanksgiving Day' on July 30, 2017 in  Islamabad. Interestingly, Imran Khan's former wife Jemima Goldsmith, in a series of tweets also expressed joy and relief over the verdict and declared that Imran would be the first Prime Minister in future who would complete a full tenure of five years in office.

Meanwhile, Awami Muslim League Chairman Sheikh Rasheed demanded President Mamnoon Hussain to call a session of the National Assembly to elect a new leader of the house. He also alleged that Nawaz Sharif had tried to bribe the judges hearing the Panama papers' case.

Fate of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been hanging in balance since he, his daughter and two sons were implicated in 'Panama Papers' on April 3, 2016. Case in this regard against Nawaz Sharif and his three children was brought to the Pakistan Supreme Court by Cricketer-turned-politician and Chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan alleging that Nawaz Sharif and his family had links with eight off shore companies.    

Case against Nawaz Sharif and his family was heard by a five-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan between November 1, 2016 and February 23, 2017, which gave a split verdict of 3-2 judges. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed in their dissenting notes felt that Nawaz Sharif should be  disqualified as he could not be considered 'honest' and 'truthful'. However, the remaining three judges Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, were in favor of constituting a Joint Investigating Team (JIT) to investigate allegations against Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif and his family welcomed the formation of JIT and asserted that the family was ready for any investigation.

Subsequently, on May 5, 2017 a six-member JIT comprising Federal Investigation Agency's Additional Director General (immigration) Wajid Zia, also head of JIT; Amer Aziz, a senior officer of the State Bank of Pakistan; Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan Bilal Rasool; National Accountability Bureau Director Irfan Naeem Mangi; Brig Muha¬≠mmad Nauman Saeed of the Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI) and Brig Kamran Khurshid of the Military Intelligence (MI), was formally constituted by the Pakistan Supreme Court and asked to submit its final report within sixty days.

JIT began inquiry into Nawaz Sharif and his family's assets on May 9, 2017. While Nawaz Sharif's elder son, Hussain Nawaz was grilled four times by the JIT, Nawaz Sharif was questioned by the JIT on June 2017. Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother and Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif were also questioned by the JIT. Since Nawaz Sharif and his family had claimed receiving money from Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, JIT did not record his statement as he refused to personally come down to Pakistan from Qatar.

While JIT submitted (July 10, 2017) its 256-page report to the three-judge special bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justice Ejaz Afzal, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul within the stipulated period and the Supreme Court reserved its verdict, constituting and functioning of JIT was marred by controversies and was highly criticised by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N, (PML-N).

On the other hand, the JIT too leveled allegations of non-cooperation, using official machinery, forging documents by Nawaz Sharif's family and his aides. The JIT also found that Nawaz Sharif could not satisfactorily answer most of the questions and he was "evasive, speculative and non-cooperative". 

The ruling PML(N) also criticised the JIT for working in a biased manner and alleged that its report was based on speculations and probabilities and actual facts were ignored during the investigation. PML(N) had also challenged the inclusion  of Amer Aziz and  Bilal Rasul in the JIT for their links with some opposition leaders and also expressed annoyance over the inclusion of the ISI and Military Intelligence members in the JIT. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif had described charges against him as a "piece of  trash"  and declared not to give in to the 'clique of conspirators'.

Despite the fact that Pakistan army had a major representation in JIT with its two  out of the six members in the JIT team, political developments had been watched from close quarters by the highest echelon of the Pakistan army in the aftermath of Pakistan Supreme Court's forming the JIT. Following Pakistan Supreme Court's constituting the JIT, Pakistan army's Corps Commanders, in a meeting Chaired by the Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa (Rawalpindi, April 24, 2017) had expressed their determination declaring that army would play a " due role" in a legal and transparent manner in JIT, in probing Nawaz Sharif and his family's business dealings abroad.  

Subsequently, Pakistan army dismissed playing any role in destabilising Nawaz Sharif government when Major General Asif Ghafoor, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations(ISPR), while addressing a press conference (Rawalpindi, July 17,2017) distanced Pakistan army from Panamagate events and refuted all anti-Nawaz   speculations. He, however, added that the two representatives of Pakistan army in JIT had worked directly under the Pakistan Supreme Court and performed their duties professionally and honestly.

Notably, according to a survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan in early July, 2017 before the Supreme Court announced its judgment, a majority of people wanted Nawaz Sharif to step down from his office. While 51 per cent believed that Nawaz Sharif should step down, 79 per cent had shown their trust in Pakistan's judiciary and army. However, 36 per cent people liked the Supreme Court's decisions on Panama case while 42 per cent did not like it. Also, 52 per cent respondents had favored Shahbaz Khan as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan.

However, there were also a few prominent names in the air for Prime Ministership, which included Defense Minister Khawaja Asif,  speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Ahsan Iqbal, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Ahsan Iqbal who has long been associated with the PML-N party and considered to be a "development brain" of the party and a visionary leader.  

Earlier, in April 2017, Gallup Pakistan had also conducted a survey during the hearing of Panamapapers case, in which the popularity of Imran Khan-led PTI had increased by 3 per cent and the popularity of Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N and Asif Zardari-led Pakistan People's Party (PPP) had decreased by 2 per cent and 1 per cent respectively. However, in overall popularity chart, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N was still way ahead with 36 per cent, in comparison to Imran Khan-led PTI's 22 per cent.

Nawaz Sharif is a political progeny of Pakistan army and has over four decades old political career.  He has experience  to face his political adversaries effectively and has also skill to bounce back at the appropriate time.

However, the Supreme Court verdict against him is a big blow to his political creditability and future. Undoubtedly, Nawaz Sharif is fighting for his political survival but he is unlikely to bow down.

Despite all odds against him, Nawaz Sharif must be having some cryptic political plans to surprise and counter his political adversaries as he is a seasoned, accomplished and a deft politician, who is capable of giving surprises to his opponents. But his political career still hangs in balance. 

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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