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July 12, 2017

The JIT report


July 12, 2017

On the face of it, the JIT report on the Panama Papers scandals is quite damning towards the Sharif family. It is indeed remarkable if the extensive references and research cited carries evidential value and can be proven beyond a doubt. The report accuses Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family of possessing wealth beyond their known sources of income, names previously unknown offshore companies believed to be owned by the Sharifs, claims Maryam Nawaz was the beneficiary of the original offshore companies and says it was given tampered evidence. Based on the conclusions it has reached in the report, the JIT has recommended that a reference be filed by the National Accountability Bureau against the prime minister and his children. The political opponents of Nawaz Sharif have used this report to demand his immediate resignation and claim that it unquestionably proves his guilt. The rest of us should be more circumspect. The report, incriminating as it may seem for the Sharifs, is not sufficient in itself. For guilt to be established beyond any reasonable doubt, the accusations contained in the report need to be proved in a court of law where the defence has a right of reply and cross examination.        The Sharif family has challenged the evidentiary basis on which the JIT has reached its conclusion and, as all legal experts and commentators agree, they have a right to reply. It is now up to the Supreme Court, when it reconvenes on  July 17, to decide what course of action to take next. However, the prudent step is to be as meticulous as possible to ensure that no one’s rights are denied and the public interest is served. Pakistan is entering uncharted waters with this investigation of a sitting prime minister for corruption and it is our duty to ensure everything is done so scrupulously that a model precedent is set for how to deal with such situations.

There are already some positives to come from the JIT report. There had been a lot of worrying that obstacles were put in the way of the JIT to prevent it from doing its work.    The integrity of government institutions was called into question and there were doubts over whether the JIT would be able to operate freely and independently.            The final report shows that not to be the case, as the JIT seemed to have access to all the documentation and help it needed; and has properly left the final matter to the Supreme Court to adjudicate. The political class, however, has shown no restraint. Imran Khan, always the first to leap to the most extreme conclusion, has demanded the immediate resignations of both Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif. The PPP has echoed that demand. The PML-N has been equally aggressive, with Maryam Nawaz rejecting the report outright. The last thing Pakistan needs right now is yet another period of political instability along the lines of what we saw during previous dharnas against the government. Politicians on all sides need to trust in the process and in the Supreme Court to allow this case to be decided in a less-heated atmosphere. Justice must now be allowed to take its natural course. 

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