Jhelum Review | Amidst falling fortunes can the Sharifs stage a comeback?

Nawaz Sharif was disqualified as PM when his own government was in power, and all the charges filed against him, and subsequent investigations too happened when his own party was in government

Nawaz Sharif, the former Pakistan Prime Minister, is finally convicted and given a custodial sentence for failing to explain how he possessed assets not commensurate with his known sources of income. Last year, he was disqualified from his office by the Supreme Court under similar charges and later also barred from leading his party – the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. The convictions have effectively curtailed his political influence, and forced many 'electables' – the traditional political elite – to switch sides and join new and emerging power alliances, mainly the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led by Sharif's arch-enemy, Imran Khan. This has severely challenged the prospects of the PML-N in the elections that is less than two weeks away.

Sharif’s conviction came while he was in London nursing his ailing wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, who is battling for her life and has been on a respirator for several weeks following a heart attack. Notwithstanding his personal tragedy or legal afflictions, Sharif remains overly defiant and refuses to be cowered down. Proving many of his detractors wrong, Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, have returned to Pakistan. Sharif and Maryam, the heir to the PMLN political empire, have been awarded ten and seven years’ imprisonment, respectively. The court also fined the family £10m and ordered the seizure of the four flats at Avenfield in Central London. In addition, Maryam was sentenced a year of custodial sentence for misleading the court with forged documents.

The Sharif’s have rejected the court verdict and decided to put a brave and rebellious face in the public, but the corruption charges are quite hard to negate. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s anti-graft court, which sentenced the Sharifs, ruled that they have laundered money in the 1990s to pay for four luxury apartments in London. This has validated and strengthened the long-held allegations that the former Prime Minister and his family is involved in massive corruption which resurfaced in 2016 following the Panama Papers leak. The Sharifs have always struggled to explain as to how the London flats came into their possession. During the past two decades or more they have supplied a plethora of stories, often contradictory; even the claims about when the flats were purchased do not match. However, during the NAB trial, the family’s defence claimed a Qatari prince, Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber Al-Thani, had paid the monies to repay a debt from Mian Muhammad Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s father. Interestingly, no one ever knew about the debt of 12 million dirham owed by the prince as mentioned in his letter submitted to the court, which claimed the loan was made “by way of provision of cash”. There is no evidence except for a sudden letter from the prince that was employed as the last defense against a conviction. The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that was probing the case discredited the claims and declared the letter as “totally a myth rather than a reality”.

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The charges of corruption, disqualification from the office through the courts or military coups have remained a constant in Pakistan’s politics; almost all politicians of import from Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif had faced such situations in the past only to come out stronger. However, the current conviction and the earlier disqualification by the courts carry an entirely new weight and significance. First, Sharif was disqualified as the Prime Minister when his own government was in power, and all the corruption charges that were filed against him, and subsequent investigations too happened when his own party was in the government. The Sharif’s – from the elder Nawaz Sharif to the younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, and their next generations – have had a massive influence on Pakistani politics for over three decades. During this time they have cultivated pliable bureaucrats, journalists and judiciary, always supervising the administration to manage election victories, control dissent and moderate any investigations into their alleged wrongdoings and corruption. However, a determined change within the judiciary and other investigation agencies is spelling doom for them. For many, this change is deliberate and has provoked allegations that it is being managed by Pakistan’s military establishment at the backend to finally finish the Sharifs whose eminence and rise to power is all but thanks to the military establishment.

(Murtaza Shibli tweets @murtaza_shibli)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author and do not reflect the views of SouthWord. SouthWord does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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