An international corruption scandal; court verdicts; ins and outs of prison; collapsing political careers; a swiftly dwindling public image; and, political enemies winning the national elections – this is most, if not all, of what Nawaz Sharif’s life has seen in the past year. The three-time former Pakistan Prime Minister has, however, retained support of his party – the PML(N) (Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)) – despite becoming a subject of national and international scrutiny for his involvement in three major corruption cases. As the narrative around him and his family members veered through tumultuous waters in real time, let’s take a look at how all of this came to be.
The 2016 Panama Leak implicated Nawaz Sharif and his children – including his daughter, Maryam Sharif – for the ownership of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands. Pakistan’s Supreme Court, upon ordering an investigation into the matter, found insufficient evidence and a JIT (Joint Investigation Team) was asked to probe further into the case. The JIT, submitting its report in July 2017, discovered that Sharif and his children used the said offshore companies to manage undeclared wealth. This wealth was used to buy various properties in London, including the Avenfield House in Mayfair. Hence, the case by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) came to be known as the Avenfield Reference.
This led to Nawaz Sharif stepping down from his position as the Prime Minister. However, this was not all. In addition to declaring that he fell short of the vague constitutional requirement that politicians be “honest” and “righteous”, the verdict goes further. In a five-page judgement, the chief justice, Saqib Nisar, ruled that,
“[All] orders passed, directions given, and documents issued, [by Mr. Sharif as Party Chairman since then, were as if they] have never been passed, issued or given.”
Sharif’s debarment lead to by-elections his Parliamentary seat. Sharif decided to field his wife – Kusloom for the seat. The optics could not be more emotive. Kusloom had been bed-ridden in London, battling throat cancer, while Maryam launched her campaign in the Lahore constituency of NA-120. The election result provided much needed vindication for the Sharif family. As reported by The Dawn, a local news outlet,
"Not only have NA-120 voters rejected the Supreme Court's decision [disqualifying Nawaz Sharif], but also rejected the court's spokesmen.’ Maryam Nawaz Sharif said while speaking to supporters after provisional results showed decisive victory for PML-N. Speaking from the same balcony in Model Town from which Nawaz Sharif had given his victory speech in 2013, Maryam said, ‘Voters have given a decision on a decision, which is that our prime minister is still Nawaz Sharif.’”
Buoyed by the victory, PML(N) supporters were clinging to the narrative that Sharif was being victimized by the army. On the other hand, Imran Khan of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek – e – Insaaf (PTI) party, claimed that the end Sharif rule would also end the era of corrupt politics and nepotism. The tide soon turned in Khan’s favor. An accountability court, in July 2018, directed that Sharif, his daughter Maryam, and son-in-law Captain Muhammad Safdar, be imprisoned. Sharif was sentenced for ten years, with a fine of 8 million Pounds, and confiscation of the concerned London properties. Maryam Nawaz was sentenced for seven years and fined 2 million Pounds, while Capt Safder was sentenced for one year. Sharif’s sons, Hassan and Hussain, were declared absconders by the court.
Ms. Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of Former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, and leader of PML-N Party.
The Sharif family was sentenced in absentia, as they were in London with Kusloom. The order altered Pakistan’s political climate forever. An attempted political stunt by Sharif and his daughter – to surrender publicly and create a groundswell of support – failed when the government turned away many supporters. As was obvious to many, Sharif’s Panama Scandal became a strong political ledge-hold for Khan as an opposition leader to grapple onto. Khan, given that he had moved to file the petition (for Sharif’s removal) in the Supreme Court, rode the anti-corruption wave to, as later seen, the PM seat in elections in late 2018. With multiple political narratives, the Sharif family’s political fate further rippled through not only their party but the entire nation of Pakistan. While Maryam had won the by-elections earlier in 2017, the 2018 Avenfield verdict was obviously a major blow to their party. Imran Khan, a former cricket star, now holds the seat of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. A month later, when Kusloom passed away in July, the former PM and his daughter were granted parole for merely 12 hours to attend the funeral.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
As the Sharifs settled in jail, so did the hype surrounding their arrest. However, the Avenfield Reference was only one of the three cases against the former PM. A second case, known as the Flagship Investment Case, was decided in favor of Mr. Sharif, due to lack of evidence. The third case wasn’t as forgiving. In this final case, known as the Al-Azizia Steel Mills Graft Case,
“The court found that Sharif was unable to provide the source of income for the ownership of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia. [Sharif was sentenced] to seven years in prison along with a fine of Rs. 1.5 billion and $25 million.”
That the Sharif family is dealing with 3 major corruption scandals, is a grim reminder of the shadowy presence of the deep-state, and the troubled history of Pakistan’s polity. This is a nation where a former Prime Minister was hanged to death, and so everyone, whether a supporter of PML(N) or not, feels the gravity of the situation. Sharif has mounted an extensive challenge to the court verdicts from jail. In his appeal, filed through Advocate Khawaja Harris in the Islamabad High Court, Sharif argued that he was convicted on the basis of presumptions and his sentence should therefore be set aside. He said the trial court verdict was based on misunderstandings as it failed to properly evaluate the objections by the defense. He also sought suspension of sentence until decision on the appeal to set aside his conviction in the case. As of the writing of this article, he hasn’t achieved to receive a suspension, and his appeal remains pending.
After months of flip-flopping legal and political turns, the loss of his wife, investigations, and political decline, the three time PM of Pakistan seems to be fighting a losing war. The public conversation has now begun to shift to an Imran Khan Premiership, with issues like Asifa Bibi’s acquittal, and a financial bailout, taking center stage. While it remains to be seen how successful he’ll be in the courts, the survivor of two military interventions seems to be losing the battle to public apathy. What it means for Mr. Sharif, his daughter, and the democratic future of Pakistan, only time can tell.
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About the Author
Rahul Chaudhary holds a Bachelors Degree in English from Hansraj College, Delhi University. He is interested in social work and has worked with multiple NGOs and organizations. Having written for online portals, magazines, blogs and more he is well experienced with handling content. His tenacious interest in social issues and art has allowed him to work with organizations like the World Comics Network, Project FUEL and many other education-awarenes projects. Still working for various journals and awareness initiatives, he continues to write on issues close to his heart as he explores the world beyond his comfort zone.