In an intriguing twist to the Nawaz Sharif accountability trial, the disqualified Prime Minister’s lawyer withdrew himself from the case on grounds of extreme pressure. In response, the court gave Mr. Sharif till next day to get a new lawyer, generating great hue and cry from the defendant and his ‘courtiers’. While withdrawals by lawyers is nothing new, it is this particular episode that has generated debate amongst people throughout the country. It was widely acknowledged that Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son in law would endeavor to delay accountability court hearings (and consequently the verdict) till after the elections, in the hope that PML N would win another term. In that case it would be small work to change laws, cut off NAB claws and neutralise two of our most respected institutions (considered responsible for Sharif Family’s downfall) through changes in constitution. While the period for hiring of a new lawyer has been extended by one week, this part of the overall PML N strategy appears to have been checkmated. If the court convicts the defendants, the verdict would in all probability, inflict significant damage to the party. For the PTI, this would be a windfall, provided Imran Khan stops putting a foot in his mouth every time events create a window for him.
Khan Sahib’s latest indiscretion is flying to Saudi Arabia for ‘Umra’ in a chartered jet, accompanied by a person, who had been placed on the ‘Black List’ by NAB. It is believed that when stopped at the airport, the PTI Chairman delayed his departure until he had obtained a onetime lifting of travel restrictions on the individual. Imran Khan will now have to answer a number of questions bothering the nation. Why couldn’t he (the greatest critic of VIP culture) travel on a commercial airline instead of a chartered luxury jet; what was the compelling need for a blacklisted individual to accompany him, to the extent that the law ministry was asked to issue a onetime exemption for this individual to leave the country. To make matters worse, PTI’s Faisal Wadwa appeared on a private television channel on Tuesday evening and in answer to the anchor’s question said that the plane used by his leader was paid from PTI Funds. Realising that he had perhaps said the wrong thing, Mr. Wadwa went on to say that this payment was justified since the ‘Umra’ was part of PTI’s election campaign (or words to that effect). I have yet to understand, whether it is naiveté or sheer political stupidity that induces PTI leadership to commit such blunders, especially when general elections are just around the corner.
Chaudhry Nisar’s condemnation of the PML N and its disqualified former head coupled with his decision to contest the forthcoming polls as an Independent, have come as no surprise. What has become interesting though is the response by Pervez Rasheed, which reflects venomous hostility against Chaudhry Sahib. The former Information Minister’s radically progressive leanings from the days when he entered politics are known to all and sundry, as is his undisguised hostility to the armed forces. It was, but natural that the disqualified PM (with his own axe to grind against the Army and then the Apex Judiciary) should drift close to his former Information Minister under the present circumstances. Such is the apparent bond between the two that Mr. Sharif’s utterances since his conviction by the Supreme Court are read off a cleverly written script that (for all appearances) has Pervez Rasheed written all over it.
While the people of Pakistan are focused on the two battling contestants i.e. PML N and PTI, they should not ignore PPP, which has a reputation of unexpectedly bouncing back after setbacks. If nothing else, Bilawal’s party will play a significant role in forming a coalition at the center. Elections 2018 will be significant in terms of another development – the large number of Independents, who will be on the shelf with their price tags for anyone, who can afford them. Despicable as this practice may appear, it is a reality in Pakistani politics. The bottom line is that when the polls are counted, we shall witness one of the biggest political auctions take place in history – and if this scenario does unfold, I and many others like me will cast their heads down in shame.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Why couldn’t he (the greatest critic of VIP culture) travel on a commercial airline instead of a chartered luxury jet; what was the compelling need for a blacklisted individual to accompany him, to the extent that the law ministry was asked to issue a onetime exemption for this individual to leave the country.