2016 will be remembered as the ‘Year of Panama’, after the Supreme Court on Friday decided that a new bench will hear the petition, with a new Chief Justice. The case continues to haunt us till its final verdict—but events of yesterday brought a sign of relief for the ruling camp and a lot of lessons for the opposition leader Imran Khan.
With the appearance of the names of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter and sons, along with over 600 other Pakistanis including politicians and businessmen, it became the issue of the year, particularly for the opposition. But like the case of election rigging, the match slipped out of Imran Khan’s hand, though all is not lost yet.
For the last seven or eight months the country's politics revolved around ' Panama case,' and Imran Khan must be given credit for keeping the issue alive. The issue took the country by a storm and pressurized the Prime Minister to make three back to back addresses, two to the nations and one before the parliament.
He could have opted for the option to resign, nominated his trusted man as the PM, and return after getting his family cleared through judicial process. Those were crucial period and the PM, was also supposed to take the crucial decision of the new army chief, and it was the time when civil and military relationships were not at his best. All this kept Sharif undecided to even think about this option.
Imran Khan's decision to go to the Supreme Court, itself released the political pressure from the PM and PML-N. It divided the opposition in PPP and PTI camps, put the opposition Panama bill on the back bench, and the movement from the platform of Joint opposition could not materialize.
As a result, Imran did not get the much required support from the other opposition parties when he gave the call for Islamabad lock down. Even his closest ally Dr Allama Tahir ul Qadri was disappointed with this approach and went abroad.
The opposition only provided token and moral support to PTI and that too, when government used force, but they were also against the 'lock down.' The most disappointing was the response from the PTI itself and had Chief Minister Pervez Khattak not taken the initiative and Sheikh Rasheed did not use all his political experience to create the motor-cycle political drama, it would have brought a lot of embarrassment for Khan.
This has also exposed PTI's capacity to agitate, but, can learn few lesson from this failure, too.
Another aspect which Imran need to look into was the decision to replace PTI's founding member and most prominent lawyer Hamid Khan with PPP Senator and senior lawyer Babar Awan and decision to make the case more political.
Hamid Khan commands a lot of respect in the judicial circle but he has his own style in contesting the case legally. He was against politicizing the case and refused to argue the case in the media.
Thus Imran replaced him with Babar Awan, who is more vocal outside the court as well and replaced Naeem-ul-Haq with vocal Fawad Choudhry, to keep Panama alive in the media.
The match is not yet over. It will now be decided in 2017, the year of election campaign for 2018, which itself made the match more exciting and thrilling. Perhaps, the fate of Panama will decide the fate of 2018. There are issues within Panama and the case itself, which should concern both.
What happened on Friday, was expected after the decision of PTI and Imran Khan, against the proposed judicial commission. Perhaps, the PTI leadership and its legal team failed in assessing the situation and the proposal for one Judge commission. They also failed in their assessment in analyzing as why government had kept its option open and even went ahead in proposing day to day hearing by this bench and did not even oppose forming of the judicial commission.
PTI should not have announced its decision before Friday's hearing and should have waited for government reply. Its announcement to boycott the commission and asking the bench to hear the petition on its own, provided government to rethink its strategy for the hearing.
The PTI's decision also let to the expected decision as the division clearly came when PTI announced it would boycott the judicial commission. The failure of the government and opposition over commission, allowed the Supreme Court to adjourn the hearing till the new Chief Justice of Pakistan takes oath.
With the government already issued the notification of the new Chief Justice, Mr Justice Saqib Nisar, the Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali and the bench perhaps were left with no other option but to leave the matter for the new Chief Justice.
Imran, may have a point in opposing the commission, but, in the end they opened all their cards before the crucial hearing.
However, PML-N and PM Sharif would be badly mistaken, if they feel they now have an edge over PTI. Panama is not only a legal case, it’s more of a political case, which refuse to die and despite some respite Sharif and family, it will continue to haunt them in 2017, till the final verdict provide them relief or who knows sent them home.
Panama, continues to be opposition's main weapon and since 2017, is the year of election campaign for 2018, election, the opposition could use it against the government and Sharifs.
Credit to keep Panama alive certainly goes to Imran Khan, as he kept the case alive till the end of 2016, but, had he played his cards well, he may have given few surprises to PML-N.
It is true that politics over Panama may not die and will at least take sometime in 2017, for the final decision. In the end, it is the SC decision, which would matter, not media's court.
If Imran really wants to go into the next election on ' Panama,' he has to win the case from the Supreme Court, as it is he who despite some advice from people like Chaudhry Aitezaz Ahsan, decided to go to the SC. Even, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad was against going to the SC, but, then he himself filed the petition. Sheikh sahib, now has to come out with few new predictions as most of his predictions did not come true.
It may not be bad news for Imran Khan and PTI, as the Panama case will continue to haunt PM, but, this time it will be new bench, new Chief Justice and New Year. So, all is not lost for Imran, but, victory is still far.
—This writer is the senior columnist, analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGeo