It is not a good look for a government to have the leader of the opposition in chains. There may be very valid reasons for Shahbaz Sharif for being kept in jail, but the logner he remains there without a proper verdict by the judiciary; the worse it looks for the government and the democratic structure of the country.

Shahbaz Sharif’s physical remand has now been extended by an additional fourteen days, until November 24th. The extension of physical remand was announced by an accountability court in Lahore, after National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had requested the court to extend by 15 days the physical remand of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president, who was arrested on corruption allegations last month. According to NAB prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua said, the delay was because the anti-corruption body was unable to hold proper inquiry and investigation due to the opposition leader’s engagements as a member of the National Assembly.

The charges against Shahbaz Sharif are serious. He is accused of ordering the cancellation of award of contract of Ashiana-i-Iqbal to successful bidders, and engineering the award of the contract to other developers, which resulted in the loss of approximately Rs193 million. He has also been accused of making other unauthorised decisions, which have causes losses of Rs. 175m and Rs. 192m. Considering the severity and technicality of the accusations, the state needs to investigate these issues with depth and veracity. The Court is in its right to give the State more time to conduct inquiry so it can investigate to the fullest extent.

However, it must also be considered that keeping the opposition leader in custody for longer and longer periods is damaging to the political atmosphere and sets a dangerous precedent of imprisoning opposition. Not only that, it also hinders the parliament, and the opposition in parliament for doing their much needed job of keeping the government in check. Indeed, the opposition effort has suffered with the arrest of the Sharif brothers, as we see no proper check of the government in parliament, as seen in the way the Punjab budget bill passed easily in the assembly. Keeping Shahbaz Sharif in custody without a conviction is also fostering antagonism in the political sphere- the division in the political arena has exacerbated to a great extent after the arrest. Before NAB asks for another extension of remand the next time, it should keep these considerations in mind.