Mohsin Raza / REUTERS Supporters of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif celebrating the Supreme Court's decision in Lahore, April 2017.

Nawaz Sharif Holds On

The Meaning of the Corruption Case

On Thursday, Pakistan's Supreme Court announced its verdict in a corruption case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. In the past, such allegations of corruption have immediately preceded the dismissal of elected governments for fresh elections or military intervention. For that reason, observers had generally been betting on a regime change in Islamabad. 

In the event, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled that there was not enough evidence in Sharif’s case to remove the prime minister from power. But it also called for the creation of an investigative team to further examine the allegations against him in the months ahead. 

The case against Sharif stems from the 2016 Panama Papers scandal, in which millions of documents concerning accounts with the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were leaked by an anonymous source. Some of the documents implied that Sharif and his family had set up offshore companies to avoid taxes. The Sharif family denied the allegations and continued to conceal facts about its assets. Sharif and his supporters also responded by accusing other political leaders and opposition parties of graft.

Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, May 2013.
Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, May 2013.

The already-beleaguered Sharif—the opposition has been demanding his resignation over his alleged involvement in rigging the 2013 elections—has since faced ever-stronger demands to leave office, including from the opposition party Tehrik-i-Insaaf, led by the former cricket star Imran Khan. Khan’s party also held protest rallies and meetings in major Pakistani cities last year. At that time, the Sharif government banned all public gatherings in Islamabad for two months. Police also charged activists with batons and arrested dozens of people in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The confrontation between the government and opposition parties continued to escalate until the Supreme Court announced the formation of a judicial commission to probe the allegations. The case was ultimately taken to trial in November.

If Sharif had been found guilty, his supporters would have protested, and the chaos might have opened the door to military intervention and

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