Scared of humiliation in the Balochistan Assembly, where the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief minister was dislodged unceremoniously, the Punjab government of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has started keeping a vigilant eye on its legislators. It has employed civilian intelligence agencies to monitor their movement. Some dissidents have been promised required funds and warned of cases if they revolt.
There are many reasons for the ruling party to panic. February will be the most important month to decide about its future. All corruption cases against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family and their appeals in courts will be decided in the month and they could be jailed in more than one case. It will panic legislators of the ruling party, leading to desertions. February is also a safe month for resignations because it will be less than three months before the general elections and the government would not be able to hold by-polls on vacant seats. A large number of resignations are expected in the month. Over 200 legislators had joined the ruling party after winning the last election as independent candidates. Over 60 of them were members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and the rest were members of the Punjab Assembly (MPAs). All of them could leave the ruling party now. It is said most of them are willing to join the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), but the party is not in a position to accommodate all of them in the election. They will have to join other parties or run as independent candidates.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has compounded problems not only for himself, but his party and younger brother through harsh criticism of the establishment and the judiciary. In a recent rant, he said Bangladeshi leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had led a movement for the breakup of Pakistan, was a patriot but he was turned into a rebel (by the establishment). “Even today, such games are being played,” he told a group of lawyers and said he wanted to forget all incidents of “injustice meted out to him” but warned “my soul should not be inflicted with wounds that I lose control of my emotions and burst out.” He said, “We all are responsible for not raising our voices against the judiciary when it gave military dictators the right to make changes to the Constitution. Judges gave away the right that they themselves didn’t have. We know how our judicial system welcomed dictators and martial law administrators and invented the Doctrine of Necessity and yet we never held anyone accountable. The standard of justice should be the same for everyone.” He has also announced a movement for the “restoration of justice” in the country, in an apparent attempt to put pressure on the judiciary and the establishment to find a way out of corruption charges and certain jail.
Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has filed a supplementary reference against the Sharif family in the pending London flats case. The reference lists seven new witnesses of which two are based in the United Kingdom (UK). Their statements have already been documented. It also includes evidence found during investigations under the new NAB chairman. TV interviews of Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Hasan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz are also part of the evidence. The NAB executive board has already approved a corruption references against ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif over the allegedly illegal construction of a road leading to their residence in 2000. The Sharif brothers allegedly caused a loss of nearly Rs125 million to the national exchequer by illegally constructing a two-way road between Raiwind and the Sharif family residence in 2000. NAB has also filed a review petition in the Supreme Court to reopen the Rs1.2 billion Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference, in which both Nawaz and Shahbaz are named along with other members of their family. It has also approved an investigation against several former ministers and government officials in the Nandipur power project scam. Since 2012, NAB has been investigating the Nandipur power project scam which caused a Rs113 billion loss to the national exchequer.
Shahbaz Sharif was also summoned by NAB for irregularities, causing a loss of billions of rupees to the national exchequer in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal housing scheme. An investigation is underway in the project of construction and expansion of the Kachhi Canal, in which the cost was raised from an estimated Rs30 billion to Rs210 billion due to corrupt practices. The Punjab Directorate of General Public Relations and the Information and Culture Department are also facing inquiries for misusing authority and causing millions of rupee losses to the national exchequer. The Punjab government is involved in the cases, one way or another. The Lahore High Court is already hearing a case against the chief minister for setting up 56 public sector companies, allegedly in violation of the rules and regulations. The companies have not only caused a loss of billions of rupees without any work for years, but also devoured over Rs80b through corruption. It appears the situation will become difficult for him in few months.
The PML-N can face a Balochistan-like revolt in its home province after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children are jailed, which is expected in February. As the Punjab chief minister also faces an uncertain future with a number of cases against him, legislators of the ruling party will desperately look for better options. They know that no party in Pakistan can survive by challenging the establishment and the judiciary. They have seen their party men leave the sinking ship in Balochistan. The PML-N was a majority party in Balochistan with 21 members but it was left with only one member, former Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri, after the revolt. It can also happen in the Punjab.