Nawaz Sharif is looking solemn and tired after a rough year of court appearances
Around 9am almost everyday for the past one year, a dozen Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) activists start queuing up in the compound of the National Accountability Court (NAB). Their sole aim is to shake hands with their supreme leader, Nawaz Sharif.
Just as the clock strikes nine in the morning, a black Land Cruiser generously sprinkled with red rose petals, enters the court premises. Before entering the courtroom, Sharif greets them while mediapersons scramble to capture the scene.
Once Sharif enters the courtroom, the activists wait impatiently around for the day’s legal proceeding to end -- to affirm solidarity with their leader, who is charged for possessing assets beyond his means.
There are dozens of activists waiting for him beyond the police pickets. They are not allowed to cross the barriers due to ‘security’ concerns.
"We love Mian sahib. In the present situation, I believe, Sharif is the only leader in the country. I like him very much and come here from time to time to express solidarity with him," Malik Akhtar, an activist from Rawalpindi tells The News on Sunday. "Good and bad times come and go. This is part of the political process. We believe one day he will come out of this crisis and will become prime minister of the country all over again."
He believes his leader comes to court every day to show his countrymen that he respects the courts.
On July 28, 2017, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Sharif as member of the National Assembly. He had to consequently leave the PM office and was declared ineligible to hold public office in future. The SC also directed the NAB to file three references against him, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, son-in-law Muhammad Safdar and sons Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz for assets beyond means and abetment.
In the first week of July this year, the NAB court sentenced Sharif to 10 years in prison for not showing any legal proof of ownership of Avenfield Apartments. Maryam was given seven years jail term while Safdar was awarded one year in jail for failure to cooperate. However, the Islamabad High Court suspended their sentence till the hearing of their appeal in the SC, a matter challenged by NAB before the apex court. Since then, Sharif has been showing up in the court regularly, a mandatory requirement until officially exempted on request.
Hundreds of law enforcement personnel deployed inside and outside the court premises to ensure security for the three-time elected PM. Only selected people (including mediapersons) named in the list prepared daily are allowed to enter the courtroom and attend the proceedings against the former PM.
"This is clear political victimisation of a three-time elected PM who made this country a nuclear power," says PML-N leader Senator Chaudhry Tanveer, who has been entrusted by his party to hold discipline in the court premises. "People ask why Mian sahib is quiet. I say his quietness is the severest form of protest. History will mark these days and in future will count Sharif’s removal as another judicial murder by the court after Bhutto’s execution."
Inside the small NAB courtroom with only a few benches, Judge Arshad Malik continues to hear the arguments from both sides in the Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment case for hours on a daily basis. Sharif, always sitting on the front bench on the right side of the courtroom, mostly remains quiet. He gets updates of the proceedings from time to time through whispers from the counsel’s assistants. Sharif is seen lost in thoughts and leaves courtroom during break at noon, marking his presence before the judge. Other PML-N leaders continue to come and go, showing their presence by courtesy before Sharif in the courtroom.
"Sharif hardly talks or smiles these days," says Sagheer Chaudhry, a senior court reporter who has been covering this matter since the start. Media fought a long battle to ensure its presence during the proceedings as the court had barred them from entering the premises in the beginning.
Last week, after the court hearing, Sharif said it had become harder for him and his family to cry, let alone smile. "You are talking about smiling, we cannot even cry loudly," Sharif said in a rather solemn tone, apologising to the mediapersons for short but honest answer.
The past year has been long and tiresome for the Sharif. Perhaps he has left himself at the mercy of time, particularly, after his wife’s death and absence of his daughter from the latest court proceedings. His daughter was a great support, says Chaudhry. "In the past, we used to have long and interesting conversations with him and he would crack jokes too."
But, columnist Irfan Siddiqi, considered close to Sharif, terms Sharif’s quietness "a lull before a storm". "I do not see any revolutionary change. There is a vacuum (in politics) and it will persist for a long time."
Last week, the Supreme Court directed the NAB court to conclude the other two references against Sharif -- of Flagship and Al-Azizia Mills, by December 24, a day before his birthday. If convicted he would be facing jail and moving the Islamabad High Court for bail as he did in the previous sentence and wait for his appeals to be heard in SC.