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February 27, 2020

Grant of bails to Abbasi, Ahsan: PML-N gets a boost, heaves a sigh of relief


February 27, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) heaved a sigh of relief with the grant of bail to its two senior committed leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal by the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

The under-pressure opposition party got a boost by having its outspoken leaders freed. The two stalwarts are expected to reinvigorate the PML-N that has been the victim of deliberate sluggishness for quite some time with the top leadership - Sharif brothers staying put abroad with one of them facing grave health challenges and the other looking after him.

Unlike some PML-N leaders, who, after having been bailed out by the superior courts preferred silence for their own reasons, Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal are unlikely to follow in their footsteps. They had been speaking in an aggressive tone when they had been attending the National Assembly sessions after Speaker Asad Qaisar has been issuing their production orders.

The much-trumpeted accountability process that had netted a number of opposition leaders received another jolt with the grant of bails to Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal.

Except two cases against Nawaz Sharif, no reference against any PML-N leader has so far been decided by any accountability court.

After their release, the conspicuous National Accountability Bureau (NAB) detainees, who are yet to get bails, include Hamza Shahbaz, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Salman Rafique and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Syed Khursheed Shah. The Khawaja brothers’ bail plea is pending disposal at the Supreme Court while Khursheed Shah’s request is being heard by the Sindh High Court (SHC).

Hamza Shahbaz has been given bail by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case but has been denied it in the assets beyond means investigation being conducted by the NAB.

The superior courts have already granted bails to high-profile politicians including Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam, Shahbaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Agha Siraj Durrani, Eng. Qamarul Islam and Rana Sanaullah, who was arranged on the charge of drug smuggling.

Abbasi, arrested on July 18 last year, has been released after seven months. He himself is responsible for such a long incarceration as he has been refusing to approach the IHC for bail asserting that the case against him was bogus and fictitious and he wants its quashing straightaway.

However, finally he was asked by PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif to seek bail and he complied with it without reluctance. He was granted bail only 23 days after he submitted the request with the IHC.

The IHC has already bailed out two other main accused including former Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and former chief of the Pakistan State Oil in the LNG import contract case, which was closed by the NAB in 2016 but reopened by it in 2018. Bloomberg reported that Pakistan saved more than $600 million “over the first 10 years of a natural gas supply deal by pitting some of the world’s biggest sellers against each other”.

Abbasi was taken into custody by the NAB at the Thokar Niaz Baig interchange of Lahore when he was on his way to attend a press conference, accompanied by Ahsan Iqbal. Before his arrest, he appeared before the NAB investigators multiple times and answered their questions.

Ahsan Iqbal turned out to be the only NAB’s political detainee, who had to face imprisonment for the shortest time after having been apprehended by the anti-graft agency. He remained behind bars for only two months. He was arrested on Dec 23 last year.

He faces the Narowal Sports City (NSC) Project inquiry, which was going on even during his detention. Prior to his arrest, he appeared before the NAB team for questioning for a number of time. A reference is yet to be filed in the accountability court against him. He refused to avail recent amendment in the NAB law to get the case trashed.

During the proceedings, IHC Chief Justice observed that when the investigations against Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal have been completed by the NAB, why they have been kept in jail. “How can they be deprived of representing their people in the Parliament? Why are their voters being punished? The NAB can't arrest anybody unnecessarily, and unnecessary arrests are in fact misuse of authority.”