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Pakistan's Sharif Resigns

Walter Russell Mead

Pakistan’s Supreme Court today ruled ousted Prime Minsister Nawaz Sharif today by ruling against him in a case involving undeclared assets. The ruling is the result of a probe launched against the PM after the publication of the Panama Papers showed that three of his children owned offshore companies and various other holdings. Sharif resigned, and his party geared up to nominate install a new figure to lead the country until elections next year. The opposition, naturally, celebrated the ruling. Reuters:

The court verdict marks a major political victory for opposition leader Imran Khan, a former cricket star who last year threatened mass street protests unless Sharif’s wealth was investigated. Khan had pounced on the leaking of the Panama Papers, which revealed Sharif’s family had bought posh London apartments through offshore companies.

“Today is a victory day for Pakistan,” said Khan. “Today onward, big thieves will be caught.”

Is this the triumph for democracy Khan is making it out to be? Not quite. Pakistan’s army has been talking about a “legal coup”—using legal means to overthrow a government that the military for one reason or another has tired of—for some time now. That seems to be what is happening here; if the military still wanted Nawas in the prime ministership, he would stay no matter how many lawyers waved papers in front of judges. But since it wants him out, this is a very convenient method of disposing of him.

That doesn’t mean transparency isn’t a good thing—it is a very good thing, and very important. But in a country like Pakistan, where the appearance of civilian power is little more than a wispy piece of gauze veiling the reality of military rule, disclosures from overseas are grist for the mill of politics as usual, not a force disrupting the status quo. Indeed, an essential piece of the argument that military apologists make in Pakistan is that civilian politicians are so clueless and corrupt as a class that only the military can be trusted with the decisions that really matter. So in this case,the Panama Papers have helped strengthen the status quo by providing external proof for the military’s core point.

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