By Luavut Zahid
July 7, 2018
The storm that has enveloped the Sharif
family began only a few months ago, and the speed at which justice has been
served is remarkable for a country like Pakistan. But is this the end for the
Sharif family or is there another purple patch in the works?
To recap, the Avenfield reference is one of
three references that were filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB)
subsequent to the Panama Papers verdict. With the ruling on Friday, the
accountability court has sentenced Nawaz Sharif to ten years in jail, in
addition to another year for not complying with the NAB investigation. Maryam
Nawaz has been given a seven-year sentence, and her husband, Captain Safdar, is
also facing a year’s worth of jail time. The property in question is being
confiscated by the government; Nawaz has been fined £8 million and Maryam £2
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif lost his
golden throne with Panama, and after the current verdict, for many, he seems to
have lost his political balance altogether. However, the reality is that
despite the Panama verdict, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) did not lose
its popularity. A recent Gallup Pakistan poll shows that 34 per cent would
still vote for the party. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) stands at 26 percent,
and the remaining 15 percent would choose Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). And if
past trends are to be believed, Avenfield will not do much to dent these
Despite PTI’s army of handpicked electable
candidates, PML-N has still managed to maintain its lead in the voter’s market.
Which brings me back to the purple patch: Nawaz can at this point do one of two
things. He can either return and face the court and then appeal the current
decision, or he can put Shahbaz in the driver’s seat. What he cannot and likely
will not do is give up.
The PML-N has spent the last few months
adding fuel to the “Mujhe kyun nikala?” fire. And it is a slogan that
practically came gift wrapped from the Supreme Court. Instead of having to
answer for corruption, the original Panama verdict helped Nawaz tell the world
he was ousted for not taking money from his own son – not corruption. Building
on this, the party has infused the public with the idea that the Sharifs are
being targeted because they are trying to change the system and beat the status
quo (the very one they helped install and maintain for years).
Not too long after the Avenfield verdict,
Maryam repeated this narrative in a tweet where she basically said that this is
what happens when people fight the big bad guys, the ones with courage always
go down. In a press conference soon after, the former premier announced that he
will return with Maryam as soon as Kulsoom is better.
What doesn’t help matters is the selective
accountability that is being practiced by our courts today. Musharraf and
Kiyani are two names on the lips of almost all the people following this case.
And if you look at democratic leaders, then around the time when things were
heating up for Nawaz, Zardari was celebrating his acquittal from a 19-year-old
At a glance, if Nawaz says that he’s being
held down by the establishment and the judiciary, there isn’t much anyone can
use to argue with him. His popularity is no joke, his party’s presence isn’t to
be taken lightly, and recent events and investigations all point to the
uneasiness the establishment feels because of the PML-N. In his press
conference today, he asked why Pakistanis should be held back by anyone after
winning their freedom from the British. Yes, Nawaz is planning to return to
save the country and its constitution.
Imran Khan has only now realised that you
can’t win elections with money and power.. Sharif’s party has been on top of
this game for a while now.
If after this, Nawaz returns to get himself
arrested and appeals the case, his sacrificial narrative will only become
stronger. With the establishment and judiciary against his every move, all he
has are emotions to play with. And Pakistan does indeed love its martyrs.
If he returns now, he will do so from the
bedside of his dying wife. When Benazir died, Pakistan voted Zardari into power
– as it cursed him. What will we do when a leader seemingly sets his personal
life to flames to return to save the country?
It is a great irony that in reality his
return is a moot point. The real question is whether this circus will matter to
Pakistan’s nascent democracy, which is often no more than a puppet show for
Luavut Zahid is a journalist based in Lahore