The ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif marks yet another flashpoint in Pakistan’s experiment with democracy, and observers have seen this as yet another attempt by the powerful Pakistan Army to assert its control over democratic institutions. The fall of Sharif, who was once ousted by army chief Pervez Musharraf in a military coup, is also a fallout of the publication of the Panama papers, about 11.5 million files drawn from four decades of records of the law firm Mosack Fonseca. The data was published in April 2016 by an international consortium of investigative journalists. The political corruption that has flourished in Pakistan did not need a Panama to rear its ugly head though, but this marks the first time a head of state was forced to leave on these charges. While most people see the current political climate as turbulent, with the sudden shock of Sharif’s dismissal making for a power vacuum at a time when terrorism and economic woes have hit a record high, there is also a growing sense of accountability coming from the court’s decision to disqualify, and effectively dismiss Sharif. While he was voted into power with a significant majority, Sharif’s government has failed to address most of the central issues plaguing the country. The top court’s handling of the charges against the Prime Minister is being seen as a glimmer of hope for the integrity of Pakistan’s institutions.
While Sharif has resigned, PML-N still enjoys strong numbers in the legislative assembly and a loyalist interim PM is set to be chosen in the next few days, who will ultimately make way for Sharif’s brother Shahbaz, who is the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province. General elections are still a long two years to go, and it is unwise to dismiss a return of Nawaz Sharif, but for the moment, despite all the storm, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has managed to score one for the rule of law.