LAHORE -  For the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), survival of Imran Khan against disqualification continues to be a challenge despite winning the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case in the Supreme Court the same day.

To mark its victory in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, the PML-N did not show any jubilation because its arch political rival Imran Khan was not disqualified by the Supreme Court.

In the morning, the apex court dismissed a NAB appeal seeking reopening of Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference against 11 members of the Sharif family, including Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz. Yet most PML-N ministers showed a long face in the afternoon when the apex court declared Imran Khan qualified as member of the National Assembly. Although Jahangir Khan Tareen, MNA and general secretary of the PTI, was ousted from the assembly by the same bench, the PML-N did not count much on this favourable decision.

For the PML-N, it was a day of joy and sorrow depending on which decision party men were leaning on. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif highly praised the SC over Hudaibiya verdict, terming it a victory of truth and justice. Shehbaz has termed it a historic day. Looking through the past, we see Shehbaz speaking very carefully about institutions of judiciary and the military. So, he maintained the same attitude this time too. Hamza Shehaz is also showing the same attitude. There are also some senior leaders in the party who speak gingerly instead of jumping to toe a specific line.

On the other side of the party, the picture was otherwise and somewhat glum. Maryam Nawaz tweeted to vent her anger on the SC for giving lease of political life to the PTI chairman. In line with the same hostile and critical attitude, she passed veiled remarks, describing the instant court decision discriminatory. She highlighted ‘aqama’ as a flimsy ground to dethrone Nawaz Sharif and said her father was being avenged in the name of accountability. Those who were included in the cabinet on Maryam’s recommendation toed the same harsh line against the SC verdict in the Imran Khan case.

In effect, the PML-N could have achieved much on the political side had the court disqualified Imran Khan. In view of the political observers, the PML-N would not only have created a flurry in the ranks of the opposition but also firmed up its footings against the threat of early elections. It could have released the political pressure built by the PTI against Sharifs over NAB references.

After National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq’s statement about the threat to the system, possibility of a long-term national government or en bloc resignations by opposition members to pave the way for early elections, it is Imran Khan who can be a moving force and expedite this process. So, his stay in parliamentary politics continues to be a basic factor in keeping things in motion, keeping his party intact and active. After getting a clean chit from the SC on his credentials, Imran Khan would work on the anti-PML-N agenda more forcefully. PAT, PML-Q, PPP, AML and even and a group within the PML-N are gearing up for action on this agenda in near future.

Disqualification of Tareen appears not to be a big relief and joy for the PML-N yet it means a lot for the PTI in a way. Keeping in view media reports about a tug of war between the Shah Group and Tareen Group within the PTI, Tareen’s disqualification is likely to bring about a ceasefire in the party for the time being. It is visible that Imran Khan will not like to lose Tareen as MNA and his friend and he will fight for him till last. Tareen’s disqualification has come about somewhat on the same ground and reasons as recorded against Nawaz Sharif. The PTI, which has been quite vocal against Nawaz Sharif holding party office by virtue of a constitutional amendment after his disqualification, may now not have the same strong voice if it needs to retain Tareen as secretary general of the party.

The Hudaibiya Paper Mills appeal has not been dismissed on merit but on technical ground that it was time barred. Technically speaking, the matter has been shelved for the purpose of reopening the reference against the Sharifs. The NAB and Sheikh Rashid of AML still have the option of review. The NAB prosecution, in view of the legal experts, presented a week case despite they had fresh evidence explored through the JIT on the Panama Leaks case. They say the NAB left a void in the appeal on which the court asked questions, but no satisfactory answer was given. The NAB reference is criminal proceedings where the law provides for rejuvenation of a case if new substantive material or circumstantially evidence crops up at any stage. Sheikh Rashid, who has directed his guns towards the NAB for frail prosecution, has decided not to leave the matter and go after it. Whether or not the Hudaibiya case will drag on will become clear after the court releases its detailed judgement on the case. And till then Hudaibiya case is no more a worry for Sharifs.

 

SAJID ZIA