NationalVolume 14 Issue # 05

Every rise has a fall

It is a universally acknowledged truth that every rise has a fall. The Sharif family, after enjoying power and plundering the country for around 35 years, is now facing a rapid decline in Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif, thrice prime minister of Pakistan, has already been convicted by the apex court in the Panama case verdict. He will not be able to contest the elections again in his life. He and his daughter Maryam Nawaz are still facing many cases in the courts. His two sons, Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz, are declared absconders by the court. Ishaq Dar, a former federal finance minister and father- in- law of Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, is also an absconder, who is, along with Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz, living in the UK. They are not willing to come back to Pakistan for facing the trials. The accountability court has already ordered auction of Ishaq Dar’s properties in Pakistan.

Then, Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-N president, the leader of the opposition in the NA (national assembly) and the former chief minister of Punjab, has been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on corruption charges in the Ashiana Housing Scheme.

According to a notice sent to the former Punjab chief minister on January 16, 2018, NAB has framed the following allegations against Shahbaz Sharif:

“He [Shahbaz] is accused of ordering the cancellation of award of contract of Ashiana-i-Iqbal to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons, and engineering the award of the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, which resulted in the loss of approximately Rs193 million.

He is also accused of directing the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) to assign the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), resulting in the award of contract to Lahore Casa Developers, causing a loss of Rs715m and the ultimate failure of the project.

He is also accused of directing the PLDC to award the consultancy services of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab (ECSP) for Rs 192m while the actual cost was supposed to be Rs35m as quoted by Nespak”.

Shahbaz Sharif rejected the accusations in the accountability court by saying, “I did not do anything illegal. I have always worked for the prosperity of this country. We recovered millions from those who looted [the country] and deposited [the recoveries] in the national treasury,” he added.

But, the court granted 10-day physical remand of Shahbaz Sharif to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the case.

After the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-N leaders are severely criticising the PTI government.

Former Premier Nawaz Sharif has declared Shahbaz’s arrest as “not just regrettable, but also ridiculous” and accused the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government of being responsible for “this worse kind of revenge”.

Maryam Aurangzeb, former state minister, has also accused the government of “using” the NAB “to take political revenge”.

On the other hand, the PTI government has rejected all the allegations and criticism by the PML-N.

Addressing the first news conference after coming into power, the PM and the PTI chief Imran Khan said: “my government is being criticised for political victimisation of opponents, but the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is an independent institution. If NAB was a subordinate department of my government, I would have sent at least 50 people to jail by now … more arrests will soon be made,” he added. Khan said people who are protesting against PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif’s arrest by NAB in Ashiana Housing scam are, in fact, shouting to evade their own arrests. “No matter how much they shout in parliament, stage sit-ins and demonstrations, we will not spare corrupt people … we’ll catch them one by one and there will be no NRO,” he remarked. “They [opposition] say that this is victimisation. Let me explain it to you, victimisation occurs when the one who is in power registers cases which are baseless. These cases were registered 10 months before we came into power,” PM Khan pointed out. He said that the NAB chairman had declared that the bureau will stop pursuing cases against politicians in the run-up to the election. “I found that very surprising. I have reservations with the NAB chairman,” he said in disappointment.

This press conference clearly shows that Imran Khan is determined to bring every corrupt person to book.

It is a fact that Nawaz Shairf and Shahbaz Sharif are corrupt politicians who have looted the people of Pakistan unscrupulously. They have also promoted corruption in the country by weakening all the institutions of the state, except the army. They have used the judiciary, the police, the civilian bureaucracy, NAB, the FIA, the FBR and the SBP, etc., just to protect their own partisan interests. But, it is also a sad fact that NAB has failed to defend its decision in the Avenfield apartments case in the Islamabad High Court which has granted bail to Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. After this bail, NAB is facing  scathing criticism from the people of Pakistan.

Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest has once again put NAB under the spotlight. In this case, NAB should investigate the case very professionally, independently and honestly. NAB can prove its competence by delivering against prominent and powerful politicians. NAB must demonstrate to the people that all are equal before the law and investigative agencies have no fear in arresting powerful individuals who are implicated in corrupt practices.

Politically, Shahbaz’s arrest has proved a blow to the PML-N, as he was not able to campaign in the run-up to the by-elections held on October 14. After the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-N has also lost its president and the leader of the opposition in the national assembly.

His arrest has also created fear and frustration among other corrupt people, including political leaders, civil officers and businessmen. That is why, the PPP’s Khursheed Shah has already labeled the arrest as an “evidence of the politics of revenge and distraction from the new government’s 100-day performance record.”

Some experts are of the views that the arrest has been staged to dispel Rana Mashhood’s statements suggesting that a deal has been struck between the establishment and the PML-N. They are of the views that how can a sitting Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly be picked up without seeking permission from the Speaker? This is a very valid question which raises serious concerns regarding due process and sanctity of the law. It shows that NAB has put itself into another high-profile inquest without preparation. NAB has also not followed due process and the principles of law. But, now, after securing the custody of Shahbaz Sharif for ten days, NAB has the time for collecting solid information and true facts to make its case strong. If it fails, then the creditability and impartiality of NAB will be lost again, among the people. The people will start believing that NAB is just a tool in the hands of powerful people who are using it to protect their own partisan interests.

The PPP and the PML-N governments have already used NAB for achieving their partisan interests. While, the PTI government in the KP also did little to institutionalise accountability between 2013 and 2018.

But, now, the PTI federal government is fully supporting NAB in its efforts to go after corrupt people freely. If the PTI allows NAB to investigate its own party members without any fear, then the people will believe in Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan. Otherwise, all hopes for a real change and new Pakistan will be shattered. The country will go back to the vendetta politics of the 1990s, which invited the Musharraf dictatorship. If the PTI government wants to bring about a real change in Pakistan, it should give a free hand to NAB. NAB should also perform its duties honestly and professionally. The Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar has already urged NAB to improve its prosecutorial and investigatory systems. The NAB chairman should pay heed to the words of the chief justice of Pakistan and try to make the accountability body more professional, effective and efficient.

In fact, Shahbaz Sharif’s case is a real test for NAB, the PTI government and the Sharif family’s survival.