LAHORE - On the face of it, the National Accountability Bureau wanted to arrest Mian Shehbaz Sharif for the simple reason that he did not show up for interrogation for the third consecutive time to satisfy the anti-graft body for his alleged involvement in money laundering and keeping assets beyond means.

PML-N leaders however think otherwise. They believe NAB would have arrested the Opposition leader even if he had turned up on the first day to answer its questions. To substantiate their point, they say that the arrest warrants shown to them Tuesday carried the date of 28th of May.

Suspecting his arrest, Shehbaz Sharif approached the Lahore High Court on Monday to seek pre-arrest bail on health grounds; the LHC is hearing his petition today. Senior PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah on Tuesday said Shehbaz Sharif would appear in the court on Wednesday (today) to be part of the proceedings. NAB team would have an ample opportunity to arrest the former Chief Minister if he is denied bail by the court. 

On Tuesday, the Opposition Leader narrowly escaped an arrest by the National Accountability Bureau as he was not present at his Model Town residence at that time. Many believe the PML-N president was anticipating his arrest and went into hiding before time. Apparently, the NAB’s raiding team failed to trace their wanted man to his hideout.

Interestingly, even the senior party leaders were unaware of whereabouts of Shehbaz Sharif when the NAB team was present at his residence.  

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid has been talking about Shehbaz Sharif’s arrest ever since the PML-N leader returned from London in March this year. The Minister insists that Shehbaz Sharif cannot escape arrest in any way. He sees him in the jail once again anytime now.

Sheikh Rashid had also predicted that NAB will come into action after the Eid. He would call it “Tarzan ke wapse” in his peculiar jargon. “Tarzan will come with full force after Eid”, he said this in the first week of May while talking about NAB’s activism in the days to come.     

Also, there is a widespread speculation that government wanted the Opposition leader to be in jail for smooth passage of the upcoming national budget to be announced on November 12. Political circles however don’t give credence to this theory since the PML-N has no dearth of vocal leaders in the National Assembly to do the desired grilling on the new budget. Moreover, the PML-N had not created any problem for the government when the last budget was passed in June 2019. Shehbaz Sharif was not in jail at that time. Why would he be problematic this time? Many ask.  

It merits mention here that Shehbaz did not return from London to face the NAB cases against him. He wanted to be in the country at the time when nation is facing COVID-19 crisis. On his arrival in Pakistan, he had stated that he had returned to help the people in the fight against the COVID-19.

Earlier, the PML-N president was arrested by the Accountability Bureau on October 5, 2018 at its Lahore office when he appeared to answer questions regarding Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case. Later on the Lahore High Court accepted Shehbaz Sharif’s plea for bail on February 14, 2019 in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases.

Afterwards, he left for London along with his ailing brother Nawaz Sharif in November 2019. 

Apart from the most likely arrest of Mian Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N also suspects many other arrests in the coming days. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Rana Sanaullah and Mian Javid Latif are among the party leaders who could be arrested in the near future. Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz Sharif is already in jail while Mian Nawaz Sharif is in London for treatment. Maryam Nawaz Sharif is not active on the political front at the moment for political reasons. Same is the case with Khawaja Asif. 

In such a scenario, the PML-N would be rendered incapacitated with leaders like Khawaja Saad Rafique and Ahsan Iqbal already under NAB scrutiny.