The tone of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has become harsher towards the judiciary after a surprise meeting between Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. It appears the ruling party failed to obtain desired results for its leadership in corruption, tax evasion and money laundering cases.
The Prime Minister’s House was mute after the meeting, held at the Supreme Court on the prime minister’s request. It was widely speculated in the country that the prime minister had requested the chief justice for some relief for his boss and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. There was also talk of another National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in the country, especially after speculated meetings of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif with Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. The timing of the meeting was critical as cases against the Sharif family are in the final stages in an Accountability Court. An official handout issued by the Supreme Court said the meeting had been arranged at the prime minister’s request, received through Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf. “It was held in a cordial atmosphere in the chambers of the chief justice. The prime minister showed keen interest in providing all possible assistance in revamping the judicial system as visualised by the chief justice. He assured the CJP that the government would provide all possible resources to the judiciary to enable it to provide speedy and inexpensive justice besides facilitating easy access of justice to the people,” it said.
The prime minister also highlighted the difficulties of the Federal Board of Revenue and the tax department due to litigation involving revenue in different courts. The chief justice assured the prime minister that he would look into the matter and litigation would be fast-tracked. The prime minister pledged full support for public interest litigation initiatives undertaken by the chief justice and assured him that all possible steps would be taken to materialise his vision on free education, public health, improvements in government hospitals and the provision of quality and affordable health services, revamping medical education, especially in private medical colleges, the provision of clean drinking water, better sanitation and protection of environment, etc. The CJP assured the prime minister that the judiciary would continue to perform its constitutional duties independently, fairly, transparently, without fear or favour and strictly in accordance with law, the handout added.
According to some analysts, it was not a planned meeting as no one in the PM’s Office was aware of it. The prime minister reached the Supreme Court in a private car. The move was also seen as part of an effort by the prime minister to convince the judiciary that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML) government does not want to confront it and to inform it about its difficulties after the judiciary’s active role in questioning the quality of governance. It is said the initiative had come against the backdrop of PM Abbasi’s recent interview to a private TV channel in which he said that his government was ready to initiate dialogue with all institutions.
Reacting to the meeting, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan said Premier Abbasi must have begged Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar to save Nawaz Sharif through another National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Addressing a press conference, he said Abbasi was working on a one-point agenda of protecting “Nawaz Sharif’s theft.” Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said it was a last-ditch effort to save Nawaz Sharif but it failed. He believed the CJP would uphold the rule of law as he was a man of principles, though the prime minister had obviously tried to influence the judiciary.
According to some analysts, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had requested Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar to remove the time limit in verdicts in cases against former Prime Nawaz Sharif in the meeting. “Nothing incriminating has been proved against Nawaz Sharif in cases in the Accountability Court so far and neither strong evidence nor witnesses have come forward in the case,” he informed the top judge and requested that the cases against the Sharif family should be heard as normal cases until the formation of a caretaker government. It is said he had informed the CJP that he was not requesting him to play a role in releasing Nawaz Sharif from the cases, rather only wanted that his party be allowed to contest the general elections like all other parties. “I feel the trial has been expedited to break up the PML-N or to create hurdles for the party to contest the election. It looks like the Accountability Court has no other cases to hear except those against Nawaz Sharif and his family,” he informed the chief justice. He also requested him to remove a caretaker judge of the Supreme Court, who is overseeing progress of the cases against the Sharif family in the Accountability Court.
He also complained that Nawaz Sharif was not even allowed to visit his ailing wife in London, which was against norms of a fair trial. “The Accountability Court should at least give enough time to the Sharif family to contest the upcoming elections. Similar cases were also lodged against former President Asif Ali Zardari and other politicians, which have been pending for 20 years. Some have been decided recently. We should also be provided with such relief,” he pleaded. It is said the chief justice listened to him carefully but did not respond to any request.
Reacting to speculation and rising criticism, the prime minister said he had visited the chief justice as a Faryadi (complainant) of Pakistan and reiterated his stance that they could not expect justice for the Sharif family from the Accountability Court. Nawaz Shairf has also started targeting the chief justice more harshly. It indicates the ruling party has failed to obtain relief for the Sharif family from the top court. The chief justice is a man of principles and it is the first time in Pakistan’s history the powerful Sharif family is being held to account. An NRO-like relief for the Sharifs is also impossible in the presence of PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the country. The Musharraf-era NRO, which facilitated the return of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from exile after cases were dropped against them, would not have been possible if Imran Khan had been as strong and popular at the time as he is today.