The sentencing of Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for corrupt practices linked to his family’s purchase of upscale London flats is ostensibly an attempt by a section of the judiciary and some army generals to scuttle his return to active politics.
Pakistan is slated to go to polls on July 25 and while he was earlier disqualified from contesting, this will hit his party hard in terms of morale and tempo of electioneering. If despite this the people back him to the hilt, speculation is rife that the elections could well be rigged. Nawaz’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), has been a frontrunner in the upcoming elections.
While Nawaz has been handed out 10 years imprisonment, his daughter and political heir Maryam has been ordered to be jailed for seven years for abetting crime and submitting forged documents in court. Her husband, Muhammad Safdar will have to spend one year in jail for not cooperating in the probe.
Nawaz Shari's return to Pakistan dicey
Nawaz and Maryam are both in London where Nawaz’s wife, Kulsoom, is afflicted by last stage cancer. While Nawaz has gone on record that he is returning to the country to face jail and handcuffs as a price “for loving the country” it is unlikely that they would return anytime soon, before the elections. As a result of the verdict, the National Accountability Bureau has disqualified Maryam and Safdar too from contesting the polls.
Waiting in the wings to grab power is former cricketer Imran Khan who is close to the military establishment. Another sworn enemy of Nawaz is General Pervez Musharraf who had in 1999 overthrown him and jailed him before Nawaz was given refuge by Saudi Arabia where he lived for eight years in exile.
It is not that Nawaz is actually innocent on the corruption charges. Revelations of his ill-gotten property deals had been made first by the much-touted Panama papers. But the haste with which the accountability court acted and the absence of a fair trial showed that there was more to the judgment than meets the eye.
Nawaz’s fighting spirit is beyond doubt and this is the third time that he will be fighting for resurrection. But this time around, his return seems dicey. That among the forces that he is fighting this time is the army gives cause for the people to be disillusioned with the armed forces. The huge crowds that he attracted in election rallies when he was briefly in Pakistan before the verdict showed that his popularity is running high.
Nawaz Sharif on the horns of a dilemma
This is not the last of the cases slapped on Nawaz. His legal woes would be chasing him for months.
For his main political opponent, Imran Khan, it is virtually a fixed match. The deep state has indeed pulled out all stops to ease the path for him in the polls. To add to the conviction of Nawaz, there have been the defections that were forced through intimidation, the imprisonment and disqualification of top PML-N leaders, the dubious role of the military and the judiciary. On top of it, the media has been browbeaten nice and proper to oppose Nawaz. It is clearly a battle loaded against the former prime minister.
Clearly, Nawaz is on the horns of a dilemma. If he continues to stay out, his countrymen will say that he lacks the will to fight. But if he returns to Pakistan, he would be put behind bars and lose the connect with the masses. His return could, however, lead to a sympathy vote which could make up for the lack of campaigning. But there is a question mark over the fairness of the poll.
All in all, Nawaz Sharif indeed faces an ordeal of fire exacerbated by the fact that he did amass ill-gotten wealth. But there is little doubt that while other corrupt elements pass muster, he has been hounded and harassed primarily because of his outspokenness and failure to kowtow to powerful forces.