After protracted litigation, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court convicted disqualified former prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, to 11 years rigorous imprisonment for making millions of dollars of assets in London from unknown sources of income. Sharif’s daughter and political heir-apparent, Maryam Nawaz, has also been convicted to eight years imprisonment on the grounds of perjury and she has also been disqualified to hold public office for ten years. The decision of the NAB court is challengeable in the high court and Supreme Court of Pakistan but the decision is going to have far-reaching implications for the politics of the country and its political future besides being fateful for the dynastic politics of the Sharif family.
The fact of the matter is that the NAB decision to convict former premier Sharif and his daughter Maryam has not come as a surprise, as during the proceedings of the cases, the media coverage and, more importantly, from the statements of both the Sharifs and their party, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders the writing was very much on the wall. The accused had nothing documented to offer as to the sources of income from which the properties in London were purchased. It is important to note that as the Sharif family and the PML-N leaders have had nothing to offer in defense of the property of Nawaz and Maryam, they started portraying through the media that the court proceedings were a part of the family’s political victimization by the country’s establishment. This narrative by the Sharif family has been made part of its defense-mechanism for the last couple of years since the Panama corruption cases were unearthed by the International Consortium of Journalists (ICJ) in 2016. On the basis of ICJ reports, the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan submitted a writ petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan after launching a massive movement to lockdown Islamabad. The petition was admitted by the SCP and during the course of proceedings, Sharif and his family could not provide a money trail for the property he and his children purchased in foreign countries, including off-shore companies. Ultimately, the court had to disqualify Sharif as prime minister and from holding public office for the rest of his life.
The SCP had also referred the corruption cases against Sharif and his children to NAB and asked it to decide upon the cases within a stipulated time. However, the NAB court could not, due to continuous non-cooperation from the Sharif family and its lawyers and making a mockery of the whole exercise. But when the family and lawyers had nothing more to argue before the court, Sharif and Maryam left the country to see Kulsoom Nawaz, stated to be fighting cancer in a London hospital. At the moment, Sharif and Maryam are in London and after the NAB court decision both announced to return to Pakistan while declaring the decision as part of the strategy of the country’s establishment to banish the clan from the country’s political arena.
There are some historic facts which need to be mentioned so as to deconstruct Sharif and Maryam’s narrative. First, Nawaz Sharif himself was handpicked by former military generals including self-appointed president, General Zia-ul-Haq and his Punjab provincial governor, General Jillani. Therefore, his entry to politics was midwifed by the military establishment of the 1980s, so there have been serious objections on the genuineness of his political credentials. Secondly, there is no doubt that the Pakistan military and civilian establishment have been calling the shots in the political arena, behind the scenes, for long, but today’s military command has experienced an generational change and perhaps it is not active in the political manipulation as has formerly been the case. However, at times perceptions are stronger than reality. Thirdly, the Panama corruption case was brought forward by the ICJ, an international body and its report of corruption by rulers was not limited to Pakistan. So, in the above-mentioned context one can analyze the consequences of disqualification of Sharif by the NAB court.
As mentioned earlier, Sharif had already been disqualified by the SCP in the Panama corruption case, therefore, if a petition would be filed in different high courts and later in the apex court against the conviction by the NAB court, the result would be nearly the same. Already Sharif’s disqualification to hold public office is for the rest of his life. The disqualification of Maryam Nawaz is a big setback for the Sharif dynasty. Because despite a bit of political immaturity the lady had become the youthful face of the PML-N. Although it is debatable whether her advice has brought Sharif to the brink of political extinction or the same has kept the party afloat, but she has played a significant enough role in the party to appear as its future. The second pillar of the Sharif dynasty, Shahbaz and his political heir, Hamza Shahbaz, may have cultivated a political base, but both have been less successful than Maryam.
The disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam definitely would have a huge impact on the upcoming national elections. Although Shahbaz and Hamza are very much in the electoral race to lead the PML-N, but they may not be able to revive the dwindling fortunes of the party. In this regard, the supporters and voters of the PML-N and Nawaz Sharif may become more dejected and express this dejection through the vote. However, the conviction and disqualification may also pour cold water on the feeling of many of the PML-N supporters and voters and they may not vote at all, considering it futile to do so. If this happens, the PML-N political fate in the next elections would be sealed. Then the psychological impact of Sharif’s disqualification on the supporters and voters of the main political rivals of the PML-N, the PTI, would be extensive. Already the feeling of euphoria is prevailing among the supporters of the PTI and its head, Imran Khan. After Sharif’s, and particularly Maryam’s conviction, they may think that one of the main political obstacles to a PTI win has been removed and with this state of mind most of the PTI supporters would vote. Hitherto, there has been clear dejection within the PTI voters, mainly due to the 2013 elections result, which the party leadership and its voters think were rigged in favour of the PML-N with substantial evidence. Maryam’s disqualification would encourage the PTI supporters and voters to cast their ballots in huge numbers and thus seal the fate of the PML-N and pave the way for their party’s victory.
The impact of Sharif and Maryam’s conviction and disqualification on the hitherto floating vote and those not intending to vote (constituting the majority) would be huge. Even a swing of five to 10 percent of the indecisive and non-intending voters under the impact of Sharif and Maryam’s disqualification, would change the results in favour of the PTI. The reason is that it has been the PTI and not the other opposition party, the PPP, which consistently struggled to unearth the Sharif family’s financial corruption including taking the Panama case to the SCP.