Ahead of Nation’s Assembly elections, in a major jolt to the former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, Sharif was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment and a fine of eight million pounds in the Avenfield case, while Maryam, his daughter, was sentenced to seven years of jail and fined two million pounds. With this ruling, Maryam is barred from contesting the elections. Her husband Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar was also sentenced to one year of imprisonment. The verdict in the Avenfield reference case was read out by accountability court Judge Mohammad Bashir after postponing the announcement four times in a day. The case pertains to the ownership of Avenfield properties in London by the Sharif family.
The National Accountability Bureau had filed the case on the Supreme Court’s directives in the landmark Panamagate verdict of 2017, which disqualified Sharif.
The trouble for the civilian establishment is a usual event in the country, with military coups, have taken place along with political exiles of prominent leaders, including Nawaz Sharif in the past.
Moreover, Sharif and Maryam are currently in London since June 14 with Kulsoom, Sharif’s wife, who is suffering from cancer and is undergoing treatment there. Kulsoom was diagnosed with throat cancer last year.
The ruling came weeks before the general elections in Pakistan on July 25 and according to several media reports, it could adversely hit the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). However, Sharif rejected any wrongdoing and insisted that everything was done with the legitimate money. After the conviction, it was not sure if Sharif and Maryam would come back to face rigorous imprisonment. However, some analysts believe that if they return, it might boost the chances of good showing in elections by the PML-N due to the sympathy vote.
Earlier, Sharif said he was not a thief and would return to Pakistan soon after his wife regained consciousness. Asserting to fight against ‘injustice’, Sharif stated, “I will continue my struggle till the people of Pakistan are not freed of the slavery imposed on them by some generals and judges.” He asserted that if the punishment for “demanding respect for the vote is jail, I am coming to face it”, adding that he will “not be a slave to those who violate their oath and the Constitution of Pakistan”, as per an ANI report.
Moreover, this is not the first time that the Sharif family is facing trouble. The three-time prime minister had a troubling journey to capture the power from military and vice versa.
Nawaz Sharif was born in 1949 into a Kashmiri family of industrialists in Lahore. In 1976, he entered politics, joining the Pakistan Muslim League. In 1981, he joined the Punjab provincial cabinet as finance minister, becoming Punjab’s chief minister in 1985. The PML later split and Nawaz formed the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). This is the party he is heading today.
In 1990, he was first elected as the prime minister. However, in 1993, he was removed from the post by Pakistan’s president. He was reinstated by Supreme Court but then resigned under pressure and his party lost elections to the Pakistan People’s Party of Benazir Bhutto.
In 1997, Sharif was elected prime minister for the second time. Again in 1999, he was overthrown in a military coup by General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s fourth army takeover since independence in 1947.
After the coup, he was convicted of corruption and given a life sentence for hijacking over an incident when he ordered Musharraf’s plane not to land in Islamabad, the country’s capital city.
Between 2000-2007, he was allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000 amid reports of a deal with the military, he was given a presidential pardon the day his family left the country.
Moreover, in 2008, he lost the election to Benazir Bhutto’s party. Bhutto was assassinated ahead of the polls, the incident was termed as one of the blots on Pakistan’s democracy. In 2013, Nawaz Sharif was elected prime minister for the third time, continued till 2017 disqualification by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the decision just ahead of the crucial July 25 polls has been highlighting different political narratives for the country. Sharif’s arch-rival, Imran Khan, has been leading a sharp attack on Sharif. The allegations of corruption along with ‘soft stand’ on policies against India are among the political weapons being deployed by Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
On July 7, reacting on the Sharif’s verdict, Imran Khan said, “I would like to ask the people who stood by Nawaz Sharif, don’t you have to answer Allah? He is accountable for Rs 30,0000 crore, the money which went into the accounts of his children. Everyone knew that he is lying. Everything was exposed in the Court.”
Khan’s political rivalry can be understood by the fact that even before the verdict was pronounced, Khan had said that Sharif will be sent to jail due to his corruption, as he accused him of using illness of his wife Kulsoom as “emotional blackmail.” “Sharif did not remember his wife while she was under treatment in London and he was holding public meetings across the country,” the cricketer-turned-politician had said.
Is military the reason for Sharif’s verdict?
Before Sharif departed for London, he was addressing public meetings, lashing out at the military and the security establishment for deposing him through the courts because he dared to try Pervez Musharraf, the military chief who ousted him in a coup in 1999, for treason after he became Prime Minister in 2013, and for being passionate about peace with India.
Sharif, in recent years, has been vocal about policies of Pakistan’s mighty military. He had once questioned the terrorism policy of the military.
There are some noticeable reasons why military takes the forefront in public policy. The perceived threat for India compels its establishment to allocate huge funds for the military. This notion of a threat from the past debacles has created a sense of fear in Pakistan. All these have led to military asserting and underscoring that it needs more autonomy to secure the country from India. This is one of the most important reasons that the military has been able to show the exit route to elected governments in the past.
The formation of Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan, is seen as a major debacle for the military in Pakistan.
Another reason has been the weak political maturity in the country. The internal rift and political instability since its establishment as a separate nation. Between 1947 and 1957, the country witnessed instability and seven prime ministers ruled during this period.
Meanwhile, the trouble for Sharif family would yield what results are yet to be exactly ascertained. The family can still approach the High Court and then the Supreme Court. Amid the elections and later the results would make clear where the politics of the country is heading.
For India, improving ties with Pakistan has been of utmost priority. But with the terrorism activities being pushed by it, has created trouble for India. With many pieces of evidence against Pakistan’s military involvement of destabilising Indian borders, the election results would be keenly watched. The Sharif family’s fate is now in the people’s court. However, what sort of judicial proceedings would move when Sharif returns to Pakistan would determine the politics of the country.