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September 27, 2017

On the political front


September 27, 2017

Nawaz Sharif’s appearance before an accountability court, at a time when many were speculating that he wouldn’t return from London, shows that he is still committed to fighting the charges against him, no matter what reservations he has about the way the law has been applied by the Supreme Court. He made his views on the corruption charges clear in a press conference after his accountability court appearance, pointing out the incongruity of having the Supreme Court involved in every stage of the case. Nawaz was typically defiant and in no mood to give up; and the PML-N is ready to amend its constitution so that he can assume his position as party chairman once again. Nawaz will now be indicted by the accountability court on  October 2      while Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is expected to be indicted       today.

Despite his legal problems, Nawaz’s return may mean he is going to be the public face of the PML-N during the election campaign. The party will run on the accomplishments of his government rather than try to distance itself from him. Nawaz has once more made it clear that he sees the entire judicial process used against him as unfair. He has emphasised that not a shred of evidence regarding corruption as alleged in the Panama Leaks affair has been produced. He has, once again, said what many others have said: that an elected, civilian leader is before the judicial panel and Pervez Musharraf, a declared absconder, could leave the country to avoid being tried for treason and murder and has declined to return.

Nawaz’s meetings with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and others, including dissenter Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, show that it is still Nawaz who is in charge. The opposition parties seem less clear about their strategy. The PTI, as it has regularly done since the 2013 elections, wants a do-over. Imran Khan claims Abbasi needs a fresh mandate to strengthen and save democracy but, apart from his ally Sheikh Rashid, no one else has backed his call. The PPP is an electorally spent force right now and needs as much time as possible to regroup while the Jamaat-e-Islami has said early elections will only allow the ruling party to cloak itself in martyrdom. Imran may have thought that whatever momentum the PTI has gained by the removal of Nawaz Sharif may dissipate by the time elections are held next year. But apart from being the only person calling for early elections, Imran faces other problems of his own. He was forced to issue another apology to the Election Commission of Pakistan in his contempt of court case and still faces investigations over the sources of his party’s funding. The PML-N indeed faces a grave crisis. Bailable arrest warrants have already been issued for Nawaz Sharif’s children and son-in-law – who did not appear before NAB today. The family and the party will then be fighting hard. What result this brings in an increasingly chaotic political scenario is difficult to predict for now but the coming weeks have much in store for the PML-N and the country.

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