Ousted Prime Minister’s party remain in defiant mood, but it’s not clear how long they can claim victimization and hold the courts off
F.M. SHAKIL — Pakistan’s Sharif family is in defiant mood. Having declared a boycott of legal proceedings following Nawaz Sharif’s recent disqualification as prime minister, by the country’s Supreme Court, on asset concealment charges, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party is now openly toeing a line of confrontation.
Observers believe that the party is pushing for some sort of a deal with the country’s military establishment – rather like the one Pervez Musharraf struck with Sharif back in early 2000 that led to the latter going into a 10-year exile in Saudi Arabia.
The Nawaz camp are adamant that the judiciary and establishment have closed ranks to victimize Nawaz, who has been the dominant figure in the country’s politics for most of the last three decades. The party has publicly ridiculed the apex court’s judgment and attacked its probity.
“Nawaz Sharif is not going to appear before any accountability court. If you want to arrest him then go ahead,” Nawaz’s daughter Maryam said last weekend, a day before the PML (N) won a by-election in the NA-120 constituency, albeit with a fairly slender majority. The seat was vacated following Nawaz disqualification, and is a party stronghold.
The by-election was essentially fought by the PML (N) and the opposition Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) as referendum on the Supreme Court’s judgment. As its candidate, the PML(N) fielded Nawaz’s ailing wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, who has been diagnosed with early-stage lymphoma and is currently undergoing treatment in London. Her daughter, Maryam Nawaz, supervised the election on her mother’s behalf and after securing victory rushed to the UK to be at her side. From London, she tweeted her defiance in the face of her father’s “victimization.”
Kulsoom polled 61,000 votes in the by-election, against the 47,000 bagged by PTI’s candidate, Dr Yasmin Rashid. In the 2013 general election, Nawaz clocked up 91,000 votes, trouncing Dr Rashid, who came in second place with 52,000 votes. Shrinkage of the PLM (N) vote should be a cause for concern in the party but instead it has been in jubilant mood.
None of this is going to help the Sharif family escape the accountability court’s processes. The Supreme Court last Friday dismissed their review petitions – and one from Finance Minister Ishaq Dar – against its judgment on revelations about the family’s financial dealings contained in the Panama Papers. This leaves them without further recourse.
To make matters worse, the National Accountability Bureau then filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on Wednesday to reopen the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, which was quashed by the Lahore High court in 2014.
The NAB said in its petition that fresh evidence had also been found that implicates the Chief Minister of Punjab, Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, and his son, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif.
The pertinent detail of the case is a confessional statement given by Ishaq Dar in which he divulged information about money laundered by the Sharifs in the 1990s. Dar said the Sharifs used Hudaibiya Paper Mills – a company owned by the family – to whiten their “ill-gotten” money. He later reneged on his statement, saying it was recorded under duress.
Neither Nawaz, Maryam, his sons Hassan and Hussain, or his son-in-law, Safdar, showed up on Tuesday after being summoned by the accountability court to answer cases relating to Avenfield Flats, Flagship Investment Limited, Al-Azizia Company Limited, Hill Metals Establishment and 15 other companies established by the family.
Ishaq Dar, who faces charges of amassing wealth beyond his known sources of income, similarly failed to appear on Wednesday. All members of the Sharif family and Dar are currently in London. The NAB has not moved to report their absence and failed in advance to exercise its authority to order that they remain in the country.
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