Pakistan’s Panama Case 2017 : My Observations
By Nilofer Afridi Qazi
Attending the #Panama Case at the Supreme Court of Pakistan- a case of alleged corruption by Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s family, was an eye-opening experience. I had never been to a Pakistani Court hearing before. I diligently went every morning to attend the daily sessions, until the Justices thought it was time to deliberate a finding. In total, there were 126 days of #panama hearings. The whole nation was hooked and waited with bated breath for the outcome (like a long drawn out cricket match!). This was like a soap opera, starring the Sharif family and their massive wealth generated over four decades, with the help of Gulf Arab countries.
Lets say this case is probably one of Pakistan’s most important judicial cases. As an observer, a citizen, I think it would be interesting for some observations to be noted.
First, it was practically impossible to attend the court sessions if one was not well ‘connected’, in spite of the fact that the supreme court is a public forum. This case was ‘special. The Panama case attracted local media reporters and some ‘anchors’ through the 126 days. There was the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz team, members of Parliament, Senate, cabinet and friends flown in from London. The Pakistan Tehrik Insaf team were led by Imran Khan along with Jehangir Tarin, who sat next to him. Shah Mehmud Qureshi, Asad Umar (always sitting at the back); Shirin Mazari with her loyal companion Munaza Hasan also came regularly. I have to say, Shirin Apa is a force to reckon with.
Every morning, there was a battle of getting your name on the ‘List’, to get into the Court, then pass through three various checking points. We would line outside Court Room 2 where the door would open at 9am sharp. Shirin Apa would observe that government officials would send their ‘sitters’ through an alternative door before 9am to occupy the first come first serve small courtroom’s prized seats. This was unfair to those who were not allowed to enter before 9am. This battle of nerves of addressing rule violations was a daily observation.
Interestingly, there was a tacit understanding no one sat next to Imran Khan, unless it was Jehangir Tareen. His party people sat on the same line as him nearby or behind. The rest of us had to battle for the remaining 60 seats.
The PMLN legal team always came well before time. Tons of books carried in suticases arrived everyday. All the lawyers took notes and paid very close attention to every observation. Salman Akram Raja represented the sons of the Prime Minister; Shahid Hamid ( and his very able daughter Ayesha Hamid as his assistant) represented the Prime Minister’s daughter Mariam Sharif Safdar and her husband & The Finance Minister Isaq Dar while Prime Minister was represented by Makhdum Khan. The defense team was professional and well prepared. There was no tamasha no hangers on, a few lawyers who were not officially on the team were seen, eg Faisal Naqvi otherwise it was a tight team.
In contrast, the plaintiff’s table was empty: no books and no visible means of note taking. Glaringly invisible, the lead counsel, Naeem Bukhari, was absent for a large part and would not come before the court was in session.
One wondered how Imran Khan chose his legal team. The responses I got reflected that no one wanted to defend this case because it was thought to be an open shut case in favour of the sitting government. Secondly, apparently Imran Khan was not willing to pay for a professional lawyer?
I had not sat through those sessions in 2016. However, the 2017 Bench: Justice Asif Saeed Khosa who led the bench, Justice Ejaz Afzal, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan made for a very interesting group. Justice Khosa was a determined judge who wanted a concrete resolution from this hearing. His wry sense of humour kept one glued to the goings on and focused. I was pleasantly surprised to see such competence as I had little expectations.
Justice Azmat Saeed was by far the most loquacious. He summarized the observations of the Sharifs when they hit upon a snag. The man is a very bright judge who had the ability to simplify scenarios in a way that the layman could understand them too. He has a political mind no doubt.
Justice Afzal the most ‘Punjabi’ of the bench was more of a listener and observer of his surroundings. During closure he surprised EVERYONE by being the most forceful in stating the respondents ‘narrative was unbelievable’ and asked if the Prime Minister was trying to challenge the intelligence of the court with these tales of spin.
Justice Gulzar, the ‘Urdu speaking judge’ was the least verbose on the bench. For example, he did not articulate his thoughts publicly and repeated a few questions that followed the bench’s line of inquiry.
Justice Ahsan looked the youngest on the bench. His youthful look belied his knowledge and style of questioning. Every single time he spoke, it was clear that he had read every line of the submissions. For instance, he red marked clear inconsistencies and ‘clerical errors’.
The leader of this Bench was clearly Justice Khosa, and his ability to put questions to both sides with professional authority. His command over the Bench, the details of the case, the holes in the legal arguments and the implications on Pakistan’s political legal moral fabric was very evident. He referred to law and Justice and the court responsibility as guardians of Pakistan’s constitution and their responsibilities.
I have to admit witnessing this case was historical. Being there, watching the court dynamics and interactions was a lesson in law, public relations, and Pakistani culture altogether.
The daily hearings had many legal observations and arguments which I tweeted from @ninoqazi. You can read more on that space about the process and outcome of the case. Will the flood gates of accountability of the most powerful finally see the light of day or will it be an open and shut case most dejectedly have predicted? We shall see and I shall follow all of it judiciously. I have faith in the five judges is all I’ll say.