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December 24, 2018

Eyes set on accountability court verdict

Top Story

December 24, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will listen to the seventh judgment relating to him today (Monday) as part of the process of delivering verdicts against him that was set in motion in April last year.

Five of the previous six decisions went against him, but he survived as a formidable political player and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) weathered powerful storms, remaining a unified force. Every time his political nemesis predicted his fall in a ditch where he would never be able to hold his political ground but all calculations and permutations proved notional and imaginary.

It will be decided by accountability court judge Arshad Malik whether Nawaz Sharif will go home unscathed as a free man or will be shifted to the Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, that, however, will not be a new place for him to live. Whether his 18-month-long trials and tribulations of being a popular politician vanish or deepen is a striking question circulating in everybody’s mind a few hours before the release of the decision.

In a 3-2 split judgment, a five-member Supreme Court bench led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had delivered the first judgment in April 2017. The majority ruling of three judges had ordered formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) stopping short of instantly throwing Nawaz Sharif out as the prime minister. He, his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who was the chief minister of

Punjab at the time, and other PML-N leaders had wrongly rejoiced the fact that the prime minister has not been quickly driven out of office and the Sharif family will be out of the woods as the creation of the JIT will drag the issue. This joy proved short-lived and started evaporating as harsh JIT proceedings began biting them. Not only the ex-premier himself but almost all members of his family had to repeatedly appear before the JIT after being summoned by it.

The next verdict handed in July last year was most devastating for Nawaz Sharif as he was shunted out of the prime minister’s office. The primary basis of his disqualification was the undeclared unwithdrawn but receivable asset -- salary from his son’s Dubai-based company -- that naturally shattered him. This decision triggered trial of Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and sons Hussain and Hassan by the accountability court where the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed three references on the direction of the Supreme Court contained in the Panama judgment.

The former prime minister was so much embroiled in the litigation that most of his time was spent in appearing before the accountability court. But he never skipped the hearings and untiringly set a new record of showing up. Then came March this year when Nawaz Sharif, as the president of the PML-N, awarded tickets to the party candidates for the Senate election. It was agitated in the apex court where it was pleaded that a disqualified politician can’t head his political party and as a consequence can’t award tickets to his contesting candidates. A new judgment was pronounced which held that Nawaz Sharif was not eligible to be the party head and not entitled to grant tickets. Thus, he was divested of the office of the PML-N’s stewardship. The PML-N candidates were declared “independents” as they, in the court’s view, were not sponsored by the valid president. They still continue to have this status.

The fourth verdict was delivered when the Supreme Court took up the question of interpretation of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution to determine whether a person disqualified under this provision was disallowed to contest for elections for a specific time or for life. While deciding over a dozen identical petitions in which Nawaz Sharif did not purposely became a party despite being urged by the Supreme Court, the highest judicial forum ruled that such ineligible person faced the life ban to vie for an elected office.

The fifth decision was given by the accountability court on July 6 this year in which Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and Capt (R) Muhammad Safdar were convicted to various terms of imprisonment that lodged them in Adiala Jail. At the time, the ex-premier and Maryam were in London, looking after the seriously ill, hospitalised Begum Kulsoom. Their presence in Britain provoked a plethora of speculation particular by their political rivals and agenda-driven TV anchors that Nawaz Sharif will never come back. Even former president Asif Ali Zardari also said that Nawaz Sharif would seek political asylum in London.

However, a week after the release of this judgment, Nawaz Sharif and Maryam flew back home to go to jail. They were quickly whisked away from the Lahore airport where they landed.

The sixth verdict was handed by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in which it bailed out the ex-premier, Maryam and Safdar, convicted by the accountability court, finding serious faults with judge Muhammad Bashir’s decision of sentencing them for having assets beyond means in the London apartments case. They were convicted without even tentative determination of the price of these flats by the judge as well as the NAB.

The seventh judgment will appear on Monday in the two references. The close of proceedings on them wrapped up Nawaz Sharif’s personal appearances before the courts. At the appellate stages in the IHC and subsequent in the Supreme Court, he will not be required to turn up.

Apart from the personal trauma that the former prime minister will suffer if jailed by Judge Arshad Malik, his party will also face a tough time due to the lack of his guidance. Shahbaz Sharif though in the NAB custody will be trying hard to make up for the absence of the elder brother.

However, anticipating an unforeseeable future, Nawaz Sharif has formed an advisory body of the PML-N to run and look after the party. This scenario will somewhat akin to what prevailed on December 10, 2000 when the Sharif family was exiled to Saudi Arabia. Before her departure, Begum Kulsoom, who was then spearheading the party, had made Raja Zafarul Haq chairman of the PML-N and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi the acting president. The arrangement had worked smoothly for seven years in Sharifs’ absence from Pakistan.

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