The arrest of the opposition leader in the National Assembly and former three time chief minister of the Punjab province, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, in a corruption case by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on October 5, is a milestone in the country with regard to the war against corruption. The arrest of Shahbaz Sharif in the Ashiana Housing Scheme and Saaf Paani Scheme cases was made after Fawad Hassan Fawad, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, elder brother of Shahbaz Sharif, become an approver in the cases. According to Fawad Hassan Fawad he issued all instructions including termination of work contracts under direct orders of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. After Fawad has become an approver against Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in the NAB reference, it would be extremely difficult for the latter to save his skin. If, despite such strong evidence, NAB and, subsequently, in the superior courts, Shahbaz Sharif is given a clean chit than it would be extremely unfortunate.
It is important to note that NAB which was formed during the rule of military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, has been under a lot of criticism from various quarters for its general failure to recover a decent portion of looted national wealth. Various aspects and reasons for the failure of NAB include weak laws, specifically plea-bargaining, political interference, corruption within its top echelons and inexperienced and noncommittal functionaries. Thus, taking the corruption case against Shahbaz Sharif to its logical conclusion means recovery of the looted and misappropriated money and sentencing him as prescribed by the NAB law. In case NAB fails to fulfill its obligation in this regard, its fate would be sealed and efforts in the country to control financial corruption would vanish into thin air. Now NAB under former Supreme Court judge Justice (R) Javed Iqbal has to make a final decision whether the body would continue to exist or die an ignominious death. One believes that at least under Justice Iqbal there is a realization within NAB that the body has a national duty which it has so far failed to fulfill and therefore, there is a lot of room of improvement. The arrest of Shahbaz Sharif and Fawad Hassan Fawad becoming an approver in this regard are big achievements of NAB and therefore, it must be supported.
Unfortunately, within a section of the media in Pakistan, and politicians, particularly those belonging to the party of Shahbaz Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), efforts were being made to bring NAB into disrepute. Moreover, PML-N and its leadership, facing numerous corruption cases initiated by NAB during the last five years when the party had its government or earlier during the rule of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have started to build a new narrative as a defence-mechanism. The PML-N leadership has started dubbing the arrest of Mian Shahbaz Sharif as a case of political victimization by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. This is despite the fact that the above-mentioned cases were filed against Shahbaz Sharif by NAB during his own party government. It is important to note that during the last three years when NAB started taking up cases against the Sharif brothers and PML-N leaders, even during their own government, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif had held press conferences and had condemned NAB and even threatened the body with dire consequences. However, today, when NAB has arrested Shahbaz Sharif, the ruling PTI is held responsible for it. It means that the PML-N does not have any logical argument in its defence to show as evidence in the accountability courts. This means that in the coming days and weeks the PML-N would take to task the federal and the Punjab governments, particularly in the National Assembly and the Punjab legislature. Although the PML-N leader, Hamza Shahbaz, who is also the son of Shahbaz Sharif and currently is leader of the opposition in the Punjab assembly, has threatened the government that the PML-N along with other options would also resort to street power. However, for a party with weak street power like the PML-N, it would be very difficult to organize huge sit-ins as the PTI staged during the last government of the PML-N.
Having said this, there is no doubt that NAB’s very bold but totally legal action against the PML-N leader, Shahbaz Sharif, has been made due to the body’s newly-found support from the PTI government, the first in the history of Pakistan. As most of the NAB cases about politicians have been regarding politicians from the two key ruling parties, PML-N and the PPP, these parties resisted the accountability body’s efforts to bring their leaders to justice. However, the PTI does not have any long list of leaders involved in NAB cases therefore, its government is least afraid of throwing its support behind it to take forward key corruption cases. The PML-N and the PPP leaders are therefore gravely perturbed by the situation. Therefore, it is no surprise that both the parties have announced that they would jointly contest the upcoming by-elections notwithstanding that both have to pay a huge political price for doing so. But both do not have any other option.
After the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif, PPP co-chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, reacted that the nabbing would send a very negative message across the world. This is a strange statement in the context of conditions prevailing in Pakistan today. Because Pakistan has already become a laughing stock due to the endemic financial corruption in which key figures of successive governments have been involved. Thus, unlike what Bilawal believes, the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif would send a very positive message across world capitals as an impression would be put across that even the high and mighty are subject to the law in Pakistan.
NAB, by arresting Shahbaz Sharif, has set a new precedent in the history of Pakistan in the context of war against financial corruption involving the high and mighty. One sees this trend becoming stronger in the coming days and weeks. It is also important to note that there was a general perception that NAB did not take action against the corrupt in the largest province, the Punjab. However, with the arrest of Shahbaz, this impression would be dispelled as he is not only a strong political figure of the province but remained the longest serving chief minister of the Punjab.