Is PML-N looking for a (judicial) miracle?

ISLAMABAD – The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is looking for a (judicial) miracle, again. Apparently, it is expecting the impossible to happen when it says that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified by the country’s top court for life in 2018, will be eligible to contest election again.

Ruling on a petition, the SC had, in April 2018 barred the former Prime Minister from running in elections for life. Earlier in July 2017, the Supreme Court had ousted Sharif from office in 2017 after Panama Papers prompted trial. Since then, confusion had persisted about whether he can run for office again.

The body language and statements of the party leaders suggest that the party is not hoping against the hope. Despite all the bars Nawaz Sharif is facing in returning back to electoral politics, there is something to believe the party is relying upon, especially when it says that at present the circumstances in Pakistan are not conducive for justice. At a time when the rumours of an alleged deal between the PML-N and the establishment have died down, the PML-N seems to have been pinning all hopes on the judiciary and if Nawaz Sharif gets a ‘relief’ in the coming days, it would not be unprecedented.

So what strategy does the party has in mind? “Example for the future can be given from the past,” explains a senior PML-N leader. When media-men during a press conference in Lahore on January 6 quoted the government ministers as saying that Nawaz Sharif will have to go only to jail if he returns to Pakistan, Rana Sanaullah replied, “Look, example for the future can be given from the past… you know he was sentenced for life imprisonment two times in the past also. He was also disqualified. He was not eligible for contesting elections in 2008. But it took only 30 days to resolve all these issues. This time it [quashing of Nawaz’s conviction] would be a matter of days. I think all these issues will be resolved within just 10-11 days, rather in less than 10-11 days,” he said. 

The PML-N leader said the party founder must also keep in mind that he would not get justice on his return. “After the statements of Baba Rehmata, Arshad Malik judge (late), Siddiqui sahib, the world knows he was treated unfairly in different false cases. Still the situation [in Pakistan] is not conducive for justice while his presence over there in London is a source of guidance for us. We can hold meetings with him and discuss party issues. In other case, if he returns [now] and God forbid, he goes to jail, we will be missing his guidance. He can return anytime keeping all these aspects in mind,” he said.

PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz told media in Islamabad on January 18 that Nawaz Sharif will return to Pakistan soon and added, the PML-N itself will take a decision about the date and time in this regard. She further said that at present, removal of the PTI government is their first priority.

So the question arises what kind of favourable environment in Pakistan the PML-N is looking for so that Nawaz Sharif could return back? Half of the answer can be found in the statement of Maryam Nawaz when she says that at present, removal of Imran’s government is their first priority. If at all the opposition parties fail in pulling Imran Khan down, the ‘change’ may start with the installation of a caretaker government in the country in August 2023 as PM Khan’s government will complete its five-year term on 17 August 2023.

Is Nawaz Sharif planning to return back to Pakistan soon after a caretaker government takes charge on 18 August 2023 in Pakistan and the ECP announces the schedule of the next general elections? With no ‘hostile’ government in the country, Nawaz Sharif may think it the best time to come back to Pakistan. Soon after his arrival, he may once again knock at the door of the apex court on the question of his lifetime ban from politics. Interestingly, Justice Qazi Faez Esa is scheduled to become 29th chief justice of Pakistan on September 18, 2023. He will remain Chief Justice for next 13 months.

On the other hand, the government also seems aware of what the PML-N is thinking on Nawaz’s return to Pakistan. On January 14, 2022, answering a question during a press conference in Islamabad, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had invited Nawaz Sharif to come to Pakistan and also said in an implied  manner that he may be mulling to return to Pakistan in August next year. “I know he [Nawaz Sharif] is waiting for the monsoon season [most probably of 2023] to return to Pakistan. God knows better,” he said. 

So can a caretaker government in the country and Justice Faez Isa as Chief Justice of Pakistan be an ideal situation for Nawaz Sharif to return back to Pakistan? Is Nawaz Sharif really waiting for the ‘monsoon season’ Sheikh Rashid is pointing towards? Nawaz Sharif must have in mind the remarks of Justice Qazi Faez Isa when hearing a petition of a local PML-N activist seeking disqualification of MNA Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Justice Isa had said that the Panama Papers case involved four Avenfield flats in London of the Sharif family, but Mr Sharif was disqualified for holding an Iqama (work permit) of the United Arab Emirates. The ousted prime minister had termed the remarks of Justice Qazi Faez Isa regarding the judgment in the Panama Papers case as “not an ordinary” development.

The opposition parties have been terming certain court decisions in the past a relief for the Sharifs. It started in July 2009 with the Supreme Court quashing the conviction of the former prime minister in the plane hijacking case. It was unprecedented. Sharif did not file an appeal against the decision at that time, saying the judiciary was not independent. The petition was moved by Sharif after more than eight years to clear his name. In December 2017, a three-judge Supreme Court bench had rejected the NAB appeal to reopen the Rs1.2 billion Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference. The bench — comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel — had been hearing an appeal against a 2014 decision of the Lahore High Court to quash the reference. It was again unprecedented when in November 2019, a convicted person was allowed to travel abroad on medical reports and it was Nawaz Sharif. 

The PTI government is not comfortable with Justice Qazi Faez Isa. The latter has so far survived government attempts to dislodge him from the apex court. On 18 June 2020, the SC had thrown out the presidential reference against Justice Isa, terming it “invalid”. In May 2021, the registrar of the Supreme Court had returned a review petition filed by the government against the apex court’s judgment on the review petitions in the Justice Qazi Faez Isa case. The office returned the application with the objection that a review could not be conducted twice into one case. Against the order of the majority in the review petitions of Justice Qazi Faez Isa and others dated April 26, the Federation of Pakistan on May 25, 2021 preferred a Curative Review Petition on which certain objections were raised by the Office of the Supreme Court. The Ministry of Law and Justice said in a statement later that the petition “shall be re-filed in due course of time” in accordance with the law, after addressing the registrar office’s objections. 

On January 21, 2022, opposition senator Tahir Bizenjo speaking in the senate had asked the president, “Why are you so allergic to an esteemed judge from Balochistan, Justice Qazi Faez Isa”. Four Supreme Court judges are going to retire in 2022. 

Legal experts believe that with the retirement of these judges, Justice Qazi Faez Isa may lose support of some of its colleagues in the Supreme Court.

The game is on though the political system lacks rules of the game. Nawaz Sharif may have a plan to return back to the country in August 2023 and soon after knock at the door of the apex court for a ‘relief’. Who knows the government, in the meanwhile, makes another attempt to throw Justice Isa out of the Supreme Court.

 

Is PML-N looking for a (judicial) miracle?

 

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