Shahbaz grounded?

The political temperature has been running high since Shahbaz Sharif was offloaded from a plane leaving for Doha despite a green signal from the court

Offloading Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, from the plane despite court orders to the contrary has raised the political temperature in the country. Sharif had obtained a one-time permission from the Lahore High Court (LHC) to travel to the United Kingdom (UK) for medical treatment. The court’s order for the removal of Sharif’s name from the travel blacklist had attracted serious concerns from the government.

Analysts say the court decision and the government response to it speak of a perceptible political tussle between different stakeholders in the power corridors. Continuous criticism of the courts by senior government officials, especially where relief was ordered for some opposition leaders, is driving their corruption narrative on one hand and keeping the public confused on the other. Some analysts say Shahabaz Sharif’s role has now been undermined twice by the powers that be.

Fawad Chaudhry, the federal minister for information and broadcasting, has been very vocal since the court decision. He took to Twitter immediately after the decision to say that “permitting Shahbaz Sharif despite being involved in money laundering involving billions of rupees to travel abroad makes a mockery of justice”. He asserted that the government would make all possible efforts to get this decision reversed.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan has pointed out the weakness of the justice system several times”, he added.

“Getting relief from the court means that the relevant government department(s) have not done their job. The government appears absorbed in selling its 25 years’ narrative of fighting hard to expose corruption of the opposition leaders who are always seeking relief from courts”, says Tahir Malik, a political analyst and co-author of Warrior after War. He says the government leaders have seen the court’s latest decision as a jackpot for them and used the opportunity well.

The most worrisome matter for the government must be the Rs 2,000 billion deficit in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Pakistan Railways and the Sui Gas companies, says Malik.

“Unfortunately, the government does not come across [as] trying to address the crooked culture responsible for this mounting liability. Instead, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet are trying their level best to keep the public’s attention focused on stories of corruption by opposition leaders”, he adds.

Addressing a press conference along with the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Accountability Shehzad Akbar, Fawad Chaudhry said Shahbaz Sharif could not be allowed to travel abroad as he was “the guarantor for an absconder, Mian Nawaz Sharif”. Indirectly criticising court orders allowing relief to opposition leaders in various cases, he said the “justice and prosecution systems have to play their role in purging the society of corruption”.

“Unfortunately, the government does not come across [as] trying to address the crooked culture responsible for this mounting liability. Instead, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet are trying their level best to keep the public’s attention focused on stories of corruption by opposition leaders”, Tahir Malik adds. 

Analyst Salman Abid says Shahbaz Sharif is apparently being rewarded for his alleged role as the “good cop.”

Shahbaz Sharif’s UK visit, says Abid, is an effort to scale down tensions between Nawaz Sharif and some state institutions.

“Serious efforts are being made to make Nawaz Sharif rethink his narrative, which has had little political impact. Therefore, [there is the nudge to] let Shahbaz Sharif lead the party and play a greater his role in local politics,” he continues.

However, “the government’s response shows that [giving] space to Shahbaz Sharif in is unacceptable to the ruling party. The latest episode shows a difference of opinions between the government and the establishment on [the] Shahbaz Sharif case,” he says.

Abid cites an incident to illustrate his point.

“A few days ago,” he says, “while responding to the question about Shahabaz Sharif’s bail in a meeting with senior journalists, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that “this question should be directed to the army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.”

Naeem Ashraf Butt, a special correspondent with a local news channel, offers a slightly different perspective.

“Shahbaz Sharif has apparently been betrayed for a second time by the ‘Powerful Authority’ — the first time [being] when he returned to Pakistan in March 2020 from the UK,” says Butt.

All stakeholders, according to Butt, including the government, were on board when Nawaz Sharif was allowed to travel abroad on medical grounds. This time around, the government was not on board.

“Besides”, says Butt, “the incident with Shahbaz Sharif has conveyed a clear message to the opposition parties: that there is no rift between the government and the state institutions.”


The author is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected]

Shahbaz grounded?