No prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history has served his or her full term. Friday’s decision by Pakistan’s supreme court to disqualify Nawaz Sharif upheld this grim tradition. Mr Sharif, who stepped down as Pakistan’s prime minister on Friday, was hobbled by allegations of corruption ever since the Panama Papers leak in 2015 revealed his family’s ownership of at least three shell companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, a seeming involvement in deals worth US$25 million (Dh92 million) and an expensive property portfolio in central London.
The revelations sparked off frenzied protests against Mr Sharif and inaugurated a judicial inquiry into his family’s finances. The findings of the judicial investigation, carried out over a three-month period and published earlier this month, were damning even though their credibility was undermined by the fact that two of the authors of the report were also members of Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence agencies. Mr Sharif was not afforded a trial nor, strictly speaking, was he found guilty of corruption.
Rather, the supreme court declared him ineligible for office because it took the view that, in failing to disclose his assets, Mr Sharif had contravened the constitutional requirement for legislators to be “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and truthful”.
The Pakistani judiciary’s ability to truncate an elected prime minister’s time in office can be seen as an affirmation of constitutional democracy: the supreme court ruled on the constitutionality of the prime minister’s conduct, Mr Sharif complied with its decision and quit, and Pakistan moved on.
Such a view is comforting, but it is also misleading. Mr Sharif’s abrupt departure is bad news for Pakistan and for the region. Given its history of coups and ramshackle civilian governments, Pakistan desperately needs to establish a precedent of an uninterrupted full term in office by a democratically elected prime minister.
It certainly does not augur well for Pakistan’s economy, which, having run up an unprecedented current account deficit of $32.6 billion last year, is at a critical juncture with the central bank attempting to manage the over-valued rupee.
Pakistan’s relationship with India is another potential casualty. Although on the Pakistani right, Mr Sharif was heavily invested in securing peace with India. Despite the deterioration of ties between Delhi and Islamabad, Mr Sharif’s presence was a source of assurance. India cannot but feel demoralised by this development.
Political chaos has once again highlighted the resilience of Pakistan’s civil society, which, despite multiple shocks, continues to set a high standard for politicians. Mr Sharif’s long-term successor will, in all likelihood, be his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the current chief minister of Punjab province. His job will be to steer Pakistan out of this crisis and in a direction worthy of its people. A democratic and stable Pakistan at peace with India is what they deserve.