Lahore - Leaving his ailing wife behind, and without being able to talk to her, for which purpose he had sought a week’s delay in the announcement of verdict in the Avenfield properties reference, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is returning to Lahore on Friday afternoon.
Twelve days later, there will be a general election, which will be the most important of the nation’s history because of the situation the country is passing through.
A large number of journalists are accompanying the three-time prime minister, who, after being disqualified in Panama papers case a year ago, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, a fine of 8 million pounds sterling, plus the forfeiture of the London properties. Daughter Maryam, who has been awarded seven years imprisonment along with a fine of 2 million pounds, will be accompanying her father.
Mr Sharif has already rejected the accountability court verdict as politically-motivated and urged his supporters to vote so overwhelmingly in favour of the PML-N on July 25 that the new legislature is in a position to overturn the decision.
But the immediate question is what will happen on Friday? And what is it that will better serve the PML-N’s interest?
The party has already given a call to its followers to reach the Lahore airport in large numbers to be able to give a rousing welcome to the former premier.
On the other hand, there are reports that the police wouldn’t let people reach the airport and Mr Sharif, along with Maryam, would be flown in a chopper to the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi. (However, it is not clear what the caretakers’ final strategy for the day would be).
A large media team is accompanying the former premier to make his return a big political event and show the world that he is the most popular leader of the 208 million people of the Islamic republic.
If he is flown to Rawalpindi without any clashes between his supporters and the law-enforcers the entire exercise will become a non-event. But if the situation turns violent because of the role of the agents provocateur – and lays the foundation for more trouble in days ahead – the caretakers may get an excuse to delay the election, a step that would upset all PML-N calculations.
No election will mean no new constitutional amendment that could overturn the impugned decision. And this will mean that the former prime minister will have to seek relief through the same judicial system the 208 million people of Pakistan are at the mercy of.
Since the former prime minister has already antagonised the judiciary and the army through his relentless attacks, he can’t expect any relief from these institutions. In fact, he may have to face more difficult times ahead because of other cases pending against him. Nobody should forget that an unfavourable verdict in the case of Model Town killings may land many, including the PML-N leadership, in greater trouble.
In the given situation, the better course for the former prime minister would be to accept the court verdict with an open mind and seek relief for himself through the judicial system which, if flawed, is because of his failure to reform it during his three-decade rule. He should let the NAB proceed against all corrupt, without hoping that every head of the anti-graft watchdog would be ‘impotent’ like the predecessor of the incumbent Javed Iqbal.
If the PML-N supremo feels that the PML-N is being singled out for accountability, he should inform the NAB who else, including his political rivals, should be brought to justice and why.
He should set a healthy precedent for his countrymen to follow by respecting the law of the land.
The PML-N should maintain peace in the country so that nobody gets an excuse to postpone the election on any ground. The party should bring its supporters to polling stations in large numbers and be voted to power – once again. After getting majority through the ballot box, the PML-N would have the authority to rule country the way it wants.
Unrest, disturbances and instability are not in Pakistan’s interest. And the PML-N should not contribute to worsen the situation, no matter what its rivals’ plans.
While campaigning for vote’s respect, the leadership should also give voters a right to ask questions. If they want to know how a “Jati Umra” in London (or Avenfield) was purchased, they should be given satisfactory answers. They should be told where the huge funds had come from? The former prime minister’s mere argument that the flats belong to his sons – not him – deprive him of any justification to defend the owners.