In a development that took many by surprise, chief of Pakistan Muslim League-N and former chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau on 5th of October, Friday. The question on everyone’s mind is what will happen next?
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s criminal justice system is notorious for delaying justice. This means the case against Shahbaz Sharif could drag on for a number of years much like the Avenfield property reference against his brother, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, that is still ongoing.
The ousted PM has appealed against the decision by the accountability court and a bench of judges from the Islamabad High Court will hear the appeals. Meanwhile, Shahbaz Sharif has been remanded to the custody of NAB for 10 days. Another aspect worth focusing on is how the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif will affect PML-N’s chances in the upcoming by-elections which are scheduled to be held on the 14th of October,
as per the Election Commission of Pakistan. About 30 seats in provincial assemblies and 11 seats in the National Assembly are vacant because either voting did not take place or the successful candidates vacated the seats. Many candidates, such as the PTI leader Imran Khan,
contested the elections from more than one constituency and vacate seats consequently. Some observers are pointing out that this is going to hurt the Pakistan Muslim League-N’s chances. Its ‘supreme leader’ Nawaz Sharif had been to Adiala Jail. Now, his brother has been arrested.
Chaudhary Nisar, former interior minister and a senior member of PML-N also parted ways with the party before the election. It appears as though the party has been weakened. On the other hand, the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif could strengthen PML-N and indeed the opposition’s hand in the by-elections.
The Grand Opposition Alliance comprises primarily of the Pakistan Muslim League-N and the Pakistan People’s Party. Both have a tacit understanding between them to help each other.
They will probably try not to sabotage each other’s vote bank in the by-elections. Supporters of the PML-N argue that the National Accountability Bureau is not impartial. They claim the party leadership has been politically victimized. Muslim League leader Maryam Aurangzeb said so in a press conference, as did Hamza Shahbaz. They both claimed that NAB was doing the bidding of the government i.e. Tehrik-i-Insaf.
The latter said that the government can’t be saved merely by arresting opposition leaders before by-elections. Ms. Aurangzeb has said that if NAB is independent, then the information minister Fawad Choudhary should be investigated. Similarly, Mian Javed Latif, another leader of the PML-N,
said in a media appearance that if NAB is really impartial, then why leaders of the PTI haven’t been arrested over corruption allegations. The fact of the matter is, however, that the National Accountability Bureau ordinance was modified in 2010 under the government of the Pakistan People’s Party whilst the Pakistan Muslim League-N sat in opposition.
The ordinance itself was promulgated under the military rule of General Pervez Musharaff in November 1999 to fight corruption. Both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N have relied on NAB and on occasion, have accepted modifications in its constitution.
Furthermore, the Ashiana housing scheme, under which Shahbaz Sharif has been arrested, was referred to NAB by the former chief minister himself. The accountability bureau called the PML-N leader for questioning in the ‘Saaf Pani’ scandal and arrested him in the Ashiana Housing Scheme corruption case.
Apparently, senior bureaucrat Fawad Hassan Fawad, who was arrested in this housing scheme case, spilled the beans and provided evidence that led to the arrest of the PML-N leader. Mr. Fawad is a grade 22 officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service and was seen as a blue-eyed officer, very close to the PML-N leadership.
Before the general elections, when former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sat in jail, many analysts predicted that the party would split up into rival factions in the absence of the leader. The opposition sees the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif as further evidence of this conspiracy.
We can expect more arguments that support the narrative of political victimization. Already, the PML-N has submitted a resolution in Punjab Assembly condemning the arrest of its leader.
Senior figures in the party are saying they will protest in the streets if need be and will make their voice heard. Meanwhile, the information minister Fawad Chaudhary has defended NAB’s role saying that NAB is autonomous and impartial body doing its job to rid the country of corruption. However,
the PML-N seems to have endured and presented a new narrative that investigations against the Sharif family for alleged corruption are all part of a conspiracy -of which state institutes are part of to weaken the party. According to this theory, accountability is merely a euphemism for political victimization that the PML-N has been targeted for.