The return of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz to Pakistan has been followed by uncertainty and confusion. Both were immediately arrested in Lahore and transported to Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. Since then there have been contradictory reports of how they are being treated. The PML-N claims that he has not been given the privileges due to a former prime minister, as laid down by jail regulations while officials at Adiala say Nawaz has been given his own room, space to walk and a cook to prepare his meals. PML-N leader Pervaiz Rasheed has said Nawaz wasn’t even allowed to meet Maryam till two days back.On Thursday, he was finally allowed to meet his family but was then denied access to his legal team.There are now also reports that both Nawaz and Maryam may soon be moved from Adiala Jail. Both sides obviously have reason to provide such differing accounts. The PML-N’s strategy seems to be to use Nawaz and Maryam’s incarceration as a way to show that it is being deliberately targeted. The government, meanwhile, has an interest in showing that it is treating the Sharif’s fairly. What has become clear, though, is that there was very little planning by the government for how it would conduct their trial. Initially, it was decided to hold the trial in Adiala Jail but the caretaker cabinet reversed courseon Wednesday, saying the trial will be held in an open court.
It is essential that the trial be a public one. The arrests of so many PML-N workers and the terrorism cases being pursued against party leaders has led to further speculation within the party and its supporters that the deck may be stacked against them. A fair and open trial could go some way towards dispelling that impression. Politically, the PML-N looks to beplaying the martyr role but neutral observers say there is enough doubt about the way matters have been handled to give some cause for complaint. Speaking at a rally in Dera Ghazi Khanon Wednesday, party president Shahbaz Sharif said Nawaz was forced to sleep on the floor during his first night in jail and contrasted the restrictions being placed on the party to the free hand supposedly being given to favoured politicians.It appears Shahbaz is trying todraw a link between the way the Sharifs are being treated in jail and the troubles the party is facing in the political arena. Until there is some transparency about the trial of Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz, this is a strategy which may reap some dividends.