Last year in April 11 million documents were leaked to the public revealing many illicit financial transactions between political and business leaders around the world. The documents became known as the Panama Papers after the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca the documents were leaked from. In short, the papers showed how the world’s elites illegally funneled assets into secret accounts. One of those leaders was Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The papers showed that Sharif’s children owned billions of dollars in offshore companies and assets not shown in the family’s wealth statements. Of course, Prime Minister Sharif denied any wrongdoing and hatched up all sorts of conspiracy theories for his defense. It didn’t take long before the Pakistani Supreme Court looked into the case for corruption. Just a few weeks ago on July 27th, the court gave its ruling. The Prime Minister was found guilty of corruption and the court ruled he was disqualified from holding public office. Sharif resigned immediately.
The following Tuesday the Pakistani parliament held a special election and elected Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as the new Prime Minister. Abbasi is expected to be Prime Minister until Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shehbaz Sharif, can win a seat in parliament in an upcoming by-election which would presumably allow him to serve the rest of his brother’s term as prime minister. It doesn’t help that Shehbaz Sharif is also implicated in an ongoing corruption case.
The ouster of the prime minister would be a stain in any normal country, but Pakistan is not normal. Nawaz Sharif’s removal from power has a silver lining. Throughout its relatively brief history, Pakistan has gone back and forth between military dictatorship and democratic civilian rule. The trouble has been that the civilian leadership has often been corrupt, giving the military an excuse to take over the reins of power in the form of coups. Syed Fazl-e-Haider, a South Asia analyst, writes in his recent article at Foreign Affairs, “The fact that Sharif was dismissed by lawyers, rather than generals this time, is a sign that Pakistan is at last establishing a system of checks and balances against corrupt rulers.”
Certainly this outcome can bode well for the future of Pakistan’s democracy and the rule of law. But only if Pakistan’s judicial system continues to go after corruption in an evenhanded way. This, Syed Fazl-e-Haider writes, “can put Pakistan on a true path to democracy.” Thus Nawaz Sharif may be playing a bigger role in Pakistan’s history than he ever intended.