Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif thinks we are a nation of idiots. Why else would he act the way he has or say the things he said at a recent meeting with journalists? He is making his return home look like a glorious homecoming of a hero rather than what it is: an inglorious end of a three-time prime minister’s political career on account of concealment of (ill-gotten) assets.
Unlike the PPP jiyalas of the past and now PTI zealots, PML-N supporters are not known for street activism. But he is still the power behind the throne both at the Centre and in Punjab. Hence the original schedule for his return to Lahore was pushed back by three days so that an impressive show of popular support could be organized. As is the standard practice of all political players on important occasions, ruling party MNAs, MPAs as well as local government nazims were obliged to bring out an assigned number of busloads from their respective constituencies to various designated stops all along the route to Lahore. Only time will tell what the religious right, his support base, makes of his fall for financial wrongdoing. What is clear though is that the hype built around his return journey in an air of defiance is all part of a strategy to try and create confusion in the public mind. The effort is aimed at achieving two objectives: (i), to wash away the stigma the Panamagate has attached to his name; and (ii), to bring under pressure those charged with trying over a dozen corruption references against his three children, a son-in-law, and another relative reinstated Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
So while holding forth at the journalists meeting Sharif delivered a tirade against the Supreme Court, making several unjustifiable claims that are openly at variance with democratic norms as well as relevant precedents. First, he said, “those who receive millions of votes are sent home by five noble persons” thereby suggesting the apex court’s adjudicatory powers apply only to ordinary citizens while electoral victory is a license for holders of high public office to commit acts that are crimes under the law of the land. In other words, he is saying an elected leader is above the law. Second, taking a jibe at the joint investigation team (JIT) appointed by the court to probe money laundering charges against him and family, he averred “never before officials from the MI and ISI were included in an inquiry.” Which makes one wonder if he has been living in the same country as we are. There are several instances where the two military agencies were included in a JIT. To quote just two examples, his own government had formed a JIT to investigate the Model Town killings including in it ISI and MI officers. And the JIT the Sindh government assembled to investigate the case of Lyari gangster, Uzair Baloch, consisted of, among other agencies, representatives of ISI and MI.
Third, he took issue with the SC decision to have a senior judge oversee the filing of references against his family members as well as the ensuing proceedings in accountability courts. That too is not something new. It was all more necessary in present instance considering that all the accountability organizations -NAB, SECP, FBR, SBP, and FIA-had refused to pursue the cases emanating from Panama Papers revelations. Then he has an unsavoury track record of using power to intimidate or influence institutions to obtain favourable outcomes. Few have forgotten how in November 1997 his party men had physically attacked the apex court because the then chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah had summoned him in a contempt case. The matter did not end there. Soon afterwards, the CJ was driven out in a government-engineered rebellion within the court. An equally, if not more, scandalous is how he managed to obtain conviction of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s spouse Asif Ali Zardari in a corruption case and exoneration of a Nawaz League MNA by a Lahore High Court judge, former Justice Abdul Qayyum. In audio tapes of three conversations his then accountability bureau chief Saifur Rehman can still be heard telling Justice Qayyum his boss, Mian Nawaz Sharif, is very unhappy over the delay in verdict and wants the accused given ‘full doze’ (maximum punishment along with confiscation of property), and the judge assuring him that the PM’s wishes would be fulfilled. In another tape Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif tells the same judge “Bhaijan” wants him not to disqualify MNA Chaudhry Sarwar and gets the response “it will be done as Mian Sahib [Nawaz Sharif] says.” Given this history, Mian Sahib cannot really complain about the appointment of a judge to oversee implementation of the apex court’s verdict, can he?
Yet he has his defenders – mostly corrupt elites benefitting from the prevailing system of loot and plunder – painting him as the victim of a conspiracy. They of course conveniently ignore the fact that the Panama Papers leaks that led to the former PM’s political ruin were not orchestrated by either the judiciary or the army- the two directions they are pointing the finger in. More to the point, the accountability law of this country lays the onus on an accused to prove his/her resources match the assets under question. Sharif and his children were given ample opportunity to do that and clear their names. All their defence counsels could come up with was a web of lies, perjury, and forgery of relevant records. Justice has not only been done but is also seen as done. The court verdict is a ray of hope for the rule of law, and an important step forward for this deeply troubled democracy.