Islamabad: Pakistan`s Supreme Court on Friday unanimously disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office after a damning corruption investigation into his family wealth.
The top court ordered that criminal cases be opened against Sharif and his family.
After the verdict, Sharif resigned from his post. The Prime Minister`s office said in a statement that Sharif has "stepped down" despite having "serious reservations" about the judicial process.
In a surprise move, the court also dismissed Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, one of Sharif`s closest allies who has been credited with steering the economy to its fastest pace of growth in a decade, and Captain Safdar, a Member of National Assembly (MNA).
The five-judge bench ruled that the Prime Minister had been dishonest to Parliament and the courts and could not be deemed fit to hold office.
"He is no more eligible to be an honest member of Parliament, and he ceases to be holding the office of prime minister," Judge Ejaz Afzal Khan, who headed the implementation bench, said in court.
The Attorney General said that the bench disqualified the Prime Minister for life.
The court also asked National Accountability Court to launch a further probe into the allegations against Sharif, which stem from the Panama Papers leak last year linking the premier`s family to lucrative offshore businesses.
The bureau has the power to arrest and bring criminal charges against those it investigates.
Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan said all material collected by the Joint Investigation Team would be sent to the accountability court within six weeks.
He said cases should be opened against Maryam Nawaz (Sharif`s daughter), Captain Muhammad Safdar (Maryam`s husband), Hassan and Hussain Nawaz (PM Sharif`s sons) as well as Prime Minister Sharif and a judgement should be announced within 30 days.
The five-judge bench -- including Justices Asif Saeed Khosa, Gulzar Ahmed, Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Ijazul Ahsan, besides Ejaz Afzal Khan --- announced the much-awaited verdict in Courtroom No 1 of the Supreme Court in Islamabad.
The court also urged President Mamnoon Hussain to take charge of the country`s affairs.
Sharif`s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which has a majority in Parliament, is expected to name a new prime minister to hold office until elections due next year.
Prior to the decision, several cabinet ministers, including Sharif`s closest allies, said the ruling party would respect the Supreme Court`s verdict.
"Go, Nawaz, Go," shouted supporters of the PTI opposition party who had gathered outside the court, and who jeered politicians from Sharif`s party.
Sharif`s supporters echoed the prime minister`s previous declarations of a conspiracy against him.
"Those who are happy and dancing will cry tomorrow," said Abid Sher Ali, a junior minister. "They have stabbed democracy in the back."
The son of an industrialist, Sharif, 67, has always denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the investigation into him as biased and inaccurate.
"This is not accountability, it is revenge," tweeted Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq hours before the verdict. "In an effort dislodge us, the democratic system has been made a target."
Sharif`s two previous stints in power were also cut short, including by a military coup in 1999, but he returned from exile to win a resounding victory in 2013 General Elections.
"Today the people of Pakistan got real justice, a new chapter has begun," Jehangir Khan Tareen, a member of the opposition PTI, said outside the court.
It is notable that not a single Prime Minister in Pakistan has been allowed to complete his or her tenure since the country`s inception 70 years ago.
The political situation in Pakistan has been bumpy ever since 1947, with four democratically elected governments thrown away by military dictators, one Prime Minister was murdered while another was hanged by the judiciary, and another dismissed by the Supreme Court.
(With Agency inputs)