The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has appointed Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as its interim head after the Supreme Court of Pakistan barred former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from leading the party after his disqualification in the Panama case. The younger Sharif is the best choice for the party but he faces many challenges in the run-up to the election.
His biggest problem will be Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, who have blatantly been bashing the establishment and the judiciary since the court took up the Panama case against the family. Many ministers, close to the former prime minister and his daughter, have followed suit. They believe they are winning and have put the establishment and the judiciary on the back foot. In fact, they have put the future of the ruling party at stake. Every politician and student of politics knows that nobody can win against the establishment of a country. The same is the case with the US, the UK and all other countries of the world. The criticism of the establishment by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter will put pressure on the legislators of their own party and they would start leaving it. Defections in the party will start after Nawaz Sharif and his family are convicted in corruption, forgery and money laundering cases, which is expected in weeks. The interim period of three months will also be hard on the party.
Shahbaz Sharif was elected unopposed as the acting president of the party after Nawaz Sharif proposed his name in a meeting, which was called after the Supreme Court barred the former prime minister from heading the party. However, Shahbaz Sharif is also not free of trouble. His close aide, Ahad Cheema, is already in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for alleged corruption of billions of rupees. He owns properties worth over Rs6b. He has also confessed to corruption in the laptop scheme of the Punjab chief minister. According to sources, he has accepted that he had received a kickback of Rs18,000 on every laptop, which he bought at Rs20,000 apiece, causing a loss of billions of rupees when he was the education secretary of the province. It is said his disclosures can land Shahbaz Sharif, his son Hamza Shahbaz and Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique in jail.
Shahbaz Sharif has himself appeared before NAB for alleged misuse of authority in the construction of a low-cost housing scheme. It was his first appearance, which unnerved him. He faces a number of serious inquiries in the coming days, which will decide the future of the PML-N. NAB has also sent notices to him, seeking details of his assets and asked him to submit details of the funds spent in the construction of Raiwind Road, leading to the Sharifs’ Jati Umra residence. It has already ordered an inquiry against Zaeem Qadri, a close aide to the chief minister, for allegedly taking favours from the Punjab Small Industrial Cooperative Employees Housing Society. The Multan Metro Bus Project is also being investigated for massive corruption. An audit report has detected over Rs6b corruption in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus project.
The Punjab chief minister had heaved a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court of Pakistan rejected a NAB plea to reopen the Hudaibiya money laundering and corruption case against him and other family members a few months ago. However, it appears NAB has found more evidence against him after it approved two new inquiries against Nawaz Sharif’s family and expanded the scope of investigations to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, their family members and political aides. The PML-N leaders set to face inquiries on separate corruption charges are Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, Hamza Shahbaz and Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman. The ousted prime minister and his family are already facing three corruption references and three supplementary references related to Flagship Investment, Azizia Steel Mills and Avenfield properties also been filed in an accountability court. It also approved inquiries against the owners of the Chaudhry Sugar Mills, including Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz, Kulsoom Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz, for assets beyond known sources of income following a complaint of their involvement in suspicious transactions from the Financial Management Unit of the State Bank of Pakistan. The issue is similar to the Hudaibiya case.
The new PML-N chief also faces the Minhajul Quran case, in which 14 people were killed and over 100 injured. Rumour has it that he will be arrested and included in the investigation when an interim setup would be announced in the country to hold the election. His 56 public sector companies are also being investigated for their legal position and corruption by NAB and the courts. Speedy investigations against him for corruption could be the fallout of his elder brother’s criticism of the establishment. Nawaz Sharif wants to sink his party along with him, rather than leaving it to his younger brother and Shahbaz Sharif has increased problems for himself by siding with him. It appears he has also reached the point of no return, like his brother.
The ruling party believes it can still win the next election. However, logic defies it. The Sharifs have been accused of corruption since they took up politics over three decades ago. They have never been subjected to accountability, because the establishment was behind them. When the establishment has left them alone to face the courts, it is highly unlikely that the party will remain intact and power would change hands from the elder brother to the younger brother. It appears no Sharif will be left to head the party in the election and lead it to power, either at the Centre or in the Punjab.