Monday December 06, 2021

Politics heats up

September 29, 2020

No one can accuse Pakistan's political arena of being boring. The first day of the week saw the high-profile arrest of Shahbaz Sharif, a pointedly sharp press conference by Maryam Nawaz, and then a press conference in response by the government's Shibli Faraz and Shehzad Akbar. First, the Shahbaz Sharif arrest. For most legal and political minds, the question has been why NAB feels it is necessary to further obtain evidence in custody from a man against whom a reference has already been filed. In putting together this reference, NAB has obviously collected all the evidence and all the material it needs to turn it into a valid document, which will hold up in court. Legal observers say that there is already some confusion about the processes and legal routes taken in such cases. These questions are best left to legal analysis, which we hope will come with clarity on the media as well.

Monday also saw the loudest questions about the entire accountability process and the ruling party coming via Maryam Nawaz, who in her press conference asked why the opposition continues to be targeted, while others remain safe. In her measured but sharply clear presser, Maryam Nawaz minced few words regarding not just the accountability process but the sitting government's performance and legitimacy. There have been innumerable rumours regarding the potential 'break-up' of the PML-N; this has not just been denied unequivocally by Maryam Nawaz but also dismissed with a warning that anyone thinking of breaking up the party may wish to rethink that. While there is a glaring difference of stance between the older and younger Sharif brothers, it seems for now the younger Sharif is not 'breaking away'. The issue of accountability was the focus all day yesterday, as Maryam's press conference also dwelt largely on what she says are glaring contradictions between the treatment meted out to different political and institutional players when it comes to the issue of 'corruption', 'money trails' and 'accountability'.

It is also correct that the arrest came just before elections in Gilgit-Baltistan and proposed elections in other places. The question of politics and accountability apparatuses coming together this way has been one that has come up before in our country. It is now on the table again. How it is to be handled by the government, notably after Maryam's fiery conference, is something that will have to be seen, but some hints could be seen in the press conference held by government representatives who both once again focused on the issue of 'corruption' and the much-rumoured 'rift' between Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif.

For now, for the good of the country and the process of accountability, it is more important than ever that the process not be tainted by perceptions of selectivity. This is something we have been saying from day one. If accountability must be done – and it must be done indeed – it is important it not fall to what is now growing scepticism and accusations of unfair play. The government should consider this carefully as we move into the next stage of our increasingly erratic political process. One thing is becoming increasingly clear though: the coming months will neither be quiet nor boring. The opposition, as per Maryam Nawaz's presser, is not giving up on the PDM. The winter is set to be a political sizzler.