Order based on technical grounds
The Pakistani Supreme Court judgment that has disqualified Nawaz Sharif is remarkable for several reasons.
Clearly, the court has established its independence as well as its power in a political system where most authority lies with the Army, although the Prime Minister is considered the chief executive.
However, in this specific instance, the court’s judgment has raised worrying concerns. They need to be borne in mind before we form a firm opinion about its outcome.
First, Mr. Sharif was unseated because the court deemed him to be in breach of Articles 62 and 63 of the Pakistani Constitution. Article 62 requires the PM to be sadiq (truthful), while Article 63 stipulates he should be ameen (righteous).
The only case the court has is that Mr. Sharif did not disclose a salary he never received as chairman of a Dubai-based company called Capital FZE, but was entitled to, as an asset in his nomination papers in 2013. Mr. Sharif argued that an unreceived salary is not an asset. The court disagreed.
On technical grounds
The glaring paradox is that the substantial charge against Mr. Sharif is one of corruption. The Supreme Court has referred the matter to the National Accountability Bureau and asked it to file criminal charges. This means the original charge of corruption has yet to be proved — and, conceivably, may never be — but the Prime Minister has already been found on technical grounds to be dishonest and unrighteous. This is not just disconcerting, it doesn’t feel like full and proper justice.
However, that’s not all. The Bench had two judges who in April had concluded he should be dismissed on the basis of the Joint Investigation Team report.
At that time, when a five-judge Bench ruled 3-2 in Mr. Sharif’s favour, an implementation Bench comprising the three judges who supported Mr. Sharif was set up to examine and form an opinion on the JIT report.
Thereafter, from April till now, whenever lawyers debated and dissected the JIT report, it was done in front of the three judges comprising the implementation Bench. But, suddenly, on Wednesday night, it was announced that a five-judge Bench would deliver the verdict.
Third, the Chief Justice was not part of this five-judge Bench. Ordinarily, in such a critical matter, one would expect the Chief Justice to preside.
Concerns about the procedure by which the court conducted the Sharif case go further. The JIT it appointed included representatives from military intelligence and the ISI. Why? A proper explanation has never been given.
None of this, of course, exonerates Mr. Sharif and his family. It’s even possible he will be found corrupt and, therefore, dishonest and unrighteous. But justice is as much about procedure and fairness as it is about the verdict. Could this be the right judgment but reached in the wrong way?
By Karan Thapar
(Karan Thapar is a broadcast journalist)