A multi-term incumbent Prime Minister investigated for financial irregularities, judicial and law enforcement bodies taking the lead in the process, and a set of verdicts and reports that could potentially disqualify the country’s most powerful politician for living beyond his means – this is beginning to sound a lot like the fabled ‘accountability’ we hear so much about.

Is this really accountability however? Divorced from the specific issues that have risen during this protracted legal battle – what does the Supreme Court/Joint Investigation Team action mean for the greater issue of accountability in Pakistan, where financial impropriety is assumed to be the default modus operandi of politicians and law enforcement against the powerful is a broken process?

The opposition will be – and has been – throwing about words like “precedent” and “historic” to categorise these developments. Certainly if Nawaz Sharif and his family faces disqualification or some other form of punishment a “strong precedent” will be created. Beyond the symbolism however, how will this precedent affect future legal proceedings?

Procedurally, very little. It must be remembered that the Prime Minister was held accountable through a long, protracted, and sometimes violent political movement and not through the inherent strength and independence of our law enforcement bodies and accountability watchdogs. These bodies eventually investigated and built the cases, but they had to be cajoled by a forceful public pressure. It is not difficult to imagine what the result would have been if the pressure had been absent.

We don’t even have to resort to our imagination to understand that. The Panama Papers revealed a trove of politicians with offshore accounts with less than satisfactory stories to explain them – including Imran Khan himself – but their transgressions have been given a clean pass by the accountability watchdogs and the public in the glare of the spotlight on the Prime Minister.

Perhaps this episode will change that; the Supreme Court will learn that with the public watching it has the strength to pass difficult judgments, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) can bring charges against prominent politicians without fearing for their jobs. But politicians and even Prime Ministers have been dismissed before, how much will this episode change the system?

Ultimately it depends on how this incident will be categorised; was this another titanic power struggle between two political parties – as it is being perceived by the PML-N and the PTI – or was this a combination of investigative journalism, public pressure, judicial activism, and investigative initiative that led to the most powerful political family in the Pakistan teetering on their perch.