Friday June 21, 2024

Nawaz and his bittersweet memories of October

By Sabir Shah
September 13, 2023

LAHORE: As Pakistan’s 12th, 14th and 20th prime minister, Nawaz Sharif is scheduled to land in Lahore on October 21 after a self-imposed exile of about three years and 11 months, archival research conducted by the Jang Group and Geo Television Network shows. The 73-year-old veteran politician has many bitter and sweet memories associated with the 10th month of the year.

Nawaz, who happens to be the longest-serving prime minister of Pakistan, having served for more than nine years across three tenures, was ousted for the third time on October 12, 1999, after he had attempted to remove his Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf, for alleged military failure and replace him with General Ziauddin Butt.

On October 6, 1998, Nawaz relieved Pakistan Army Chief, General Jahangir Karamat, who was simultaneously serving as Chief of the Army Staff and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. General Karamat was shown the door for making public statements that were deemed contradictory to the policies of the government.

On October 9, 1998, Nawaz Sharif-led National Assembly of Pakistan had passed a constitutional amendment, whereby declaring the Islamic Shariah code as the country’s supreme law. The amendment was passed by the Lower House of Parliament by 151 to 16 votes. The approval came after the PML-N government had removed a number of controversial clauses, which would have given the authorities greater power to amend the National Charter.

Just months after his return to power for the third time in 2013, Nawaz paid an official visit to Washington, DC, on October 20. He and the then-American President Barack Obama had pledged to strengthen the rather volatile bilateral ties. Following the visit, the Voice of America reported that the United States released more than US$1.6 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan. This aid was suspended when the Islamabad-Washington relationship turned sour after the May 2011 covert raid of US marines, which resulted in the killing of Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, in Abbottabad. On Pakistan’s formal request, the United States had also temporarily halted the drone strikes in northwestern Pakistan.

In October 2014, at least 20 civilians were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes when Pakistani and Indian military exchanged fire in Kashmir. As both sides vehemently blamed each other for the hostilities, Nawaz had publicly accused India of an inflexible approach towards resolving the Kashmir issue. On October 24, 2016, shortly after his government had inked a US$6.4 billion three-year programme with the IMF, the global creditor’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, toured Pakistan, during which she announced Pakistan was out of the economic crisis. She asserted that continued efforts were, however, needed to bring more people under taxation and to ensure that all taxable citizens paid their fair share to the national coffers. Lagarde’s visit had emitted positive vibes for both local and foreign investors, besides having had a rather healthy impact on the country’s stock exchanges.

On October 27, 2016, Nawaz Sharif chaired the 15th ministerial meeting of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Programme (CAREC) and proposed an Open Skies Agreement between the member countries. The development was widely highlighted worldwide.

On October 29, 2016, Nawaz’s arch-political rival, Imran Khan, began mobilizing his workers yet again to lockdown Islamabad and demanded that the sitting premier should resign and that a corruption inquiry be initiated against him. In response, the Sharif government placed a city-wide ban on gatherings and arrested hundreds of opposition activists. The PML-N government also arrested scores of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) workers and closed the motorway leading from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On October 7, 2017, Nawaz Sharif declared assets, which were reported in detail by a section of local media for the first time and served as fodder for electronic media talk shows. According to a report published in an English daily, “As per the accounts submitted and subsequently published in the Gazette of Pakistan on February 9 2017, Nawaz Sharif, formerly of the NA-120 constituency, holds a total of over Rs 1.773 billion in various asset classes. His holdings consist of a combined 1,654 kanals of agricultural land in Lahore worth Rs992.5 million. These lands were priced at Rs74.5 million at the time he inherited the lands, the declaration stated. Sharif also owns 14 kanals of agricultural land in Sheikhupura, which had cost him Rs36,675 at the time of purchase. It is currently valued at Rs17.8 million. He also holds Rs70 million worth of inherited agricultural land in Sheikhupura.”

The English-language newspaper, which had cited an Election Commission of Pakistan form submitted by Nawaz Sharif about his assets as a reference, had maintained: “Sharif’s wife, Kalsoom Nawaz, also owns a house in Murree worth Rs100 million and one in Abbottabad valued at Rs100.3 million.

Under “assets brought or remitted from outside Pakistan” the former prime minister has declared Rs233.3 million (around $2.2 million) in a US dollar account and a little over Rs1.2 million in a Pakistani rupee account with Standard Chartered, which receives bank drafts and remittances from son Hussain Nawaz.”

It was further reported: “While the former prime minister’s wife declares Rs550,854 as cash in hand, Sharif lists over Rs3.5 million for himself. He also lists Rs7 million in “Furniture, Fittings and articles”, and Rs5 million worth of “Animals / Birds”. In the “cash at bank” section, Sharif lists a cumulative total of just over Rs12 million spread across eight bank accounts, in four banks, with a little over Rs4.7 million in Bank Alfalah representing the largest account. Meanwhile, Mrs Nawaz lists just under Rs7.5 million in three accounts at three banks, the largest of it represented by a little over Rs.7.4 million at Standard Chartered.”

On October 25, 2019, the Lahore High Court granted bail to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case. PML-N President, Shehbaz Sharif, had filed the bail application for the release of his brother from the custody of National Accountability Bureau.

According to the short order, the former premier was required to submit two surety bonds worth Rs10 million each for his release. The following day, on October 26, Nawaz also secured bail from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on medical grounds in the Al Azizia reference till October 29. The development came shortly after the National Accountability Bureau, in its response to the IHC, had cited humanitarian grounds and said that it had “no objections to bail being granted.”

On October 29, 2019, the Islamabad High Court suspended the sentence of Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds for eight weeks in the Al Azizia case. The court, in its order, said that two surety bonds of Rs2 million each would have to be submitted to the court to secure Nawaz’s release. The court further announced that for an extension in bail, the Punjab government should be approached.

It is imperative to note that while he was in opposition about 27 years ago, Nawaz Sharif had organized successful strikes countrywide during September and October 1996 against his key political adversary and the sitting premier, Benazir Bhutto, ultimately leading to her dismissal in November of the same year. Years that followed saw both Nawaz and Benazir getting united against their common enemy, Genera Musharraf, and signing the famous Charter of Democracy on May 14, 2006, in London and becoming political allies.

Earlier on September 10, 2007, Nawaz Sharif was deported just hours after returning to Pakistan from seven years in exile.

Within about four hours of stepping off a flight from London, Sharif was taken into custody at Lahore Airport and charged with corruption. He was shifted to another plane and flown to Jeddah.