The Cable

Pakistani Supreme Court Announces Probe Into PM Sharif as Clashes With India Continue

Will a corruption case make Pakistan's prime minister take a harder line on the Line of Control?


Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a lot on his mind — and it’s not just the simmering conflict with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

On Tuesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court announced the formation of a commission to investigate allegations of corruption against Sharif himself. The prime minister and his children became embroiled in the “Panama Papers” leaks, which listed the offshore holdings of the Sharif clan.

News of the probe cheered Pakistan’s opposition leader, Imran Khan. After trying Monday to win permission to stage a protest against Sharif in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Khan instead urged people to attend a celebratory rally in honor of the new investigation.

Sharif’s political woes add a potentially combustible ingredient to the ongoing dispute over Kashmir, which flared into violence in September and continued with cross-border assaults by Indian forces over the weekend. As of Tuesday, Indian authorities say the recent fighting has killed seven and injured 15 on their side; Pakistani officials say the fighting has killed six and injured eight on theirs.

Sharif has described the violence as an “unfinished agenda of partition” and vowed that Pakistan is prepared to defend itself. The Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir ended up as part of India in the 1947 partition that freed India from British colonial rule and birthed Pakistan and has been a source of irritation ever since. Pakistani leaders for decades have encouraged militants to put pressure on India on its side of the territory.

Some Indian media, such as the Indian Express, view Sharif’s hawkish stance on the disputed province as an attempt to stay in power despite the domestic political fallout from the Panama Papers revelations. It wouldn’t be without historical cause: In 2014, in the throes of yet another battle with Khan, Sharif tried to make peace overtures to India and was rewarded with cross-border violence.

On Wednesday, the dispute between the two countries spread to the diplomatic realm: Pakistan said it may expel at least two Indian diplomats in Islamabad it accuses of spying. Last week, both countries vowed to expel a diplomat from the other side on suspicions of espionage.

Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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