Yesterday a Pakistani journalist known to be close to the military gave a news story to The Times of UK with the opening lines, ‘Pakistan’s former prime minister would escape a corruption trial and be allowed to live in exile under a potential deal being brokered by Saudi Arabia.’ The story further stated, ‘Mr Sharif, who requires permission to leave Pakistan, is ready to quit active politics, without facing prosecution, according to a source.’
There is no mention of what sort of source has offered such illogical information to the journalist. The corruption trial is underway already and already in hot water as there is a dire lack of evidence of corruption. The Hudaibiya case ordered to be reopened illegally by the National Accountability Bureau by one bench of the Supreme Court (in its remarks only), has been thrown out by another bench of the same Supreme Court. NAB plans to file a review petition and two mainstream parties want to become party to the review petition, but there is little chance they will win the review if they file it. The bench that threw out NAB’s appeal gave two solid legal reasons: time bar and no new evidence, reiterating that material from the Joint Investigating Team consisted of accusations and unverified/ photocopy documents, not new evidence. The references being heard against Nawaz Sharif, too, are fundamentally related to the Hudaibiya case, which is now a past and closed case, having been thrown out of courts time and again.
However, the language and gist of the story in The Times is hilarious for other reasons as well. That Nawaz Sharif will be ‘allowed’ to live in exile is laughable because that is what the establishment has literally been begging him to do in return for not pursuing trumped up charges against him. Indeed, the establishment wants him and his family out of the politics of Pakistan and would give its right arm to get him to agree to go into exile. But going by everything the former prime minister, his daughter and his close circle have said, it is apparent that he is in no mood to do the establishment’s bidding – he appears to have decided to take his chances and fight this out. Indeed, he has made his calculations and if they are anything close to mine, he would fight. The man was elected to the highest office thrice, and thrice he was thrown out – now he is out to expose the hidden hands behind the conspiracies that ultimately harm citizens of Pakistan more than their elected rulers.
The journalist made the former premier’s trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the peg of the story without considering some very important developments of the past five months since Sharif’s disqualification to be member of parliament: Sharif has been wildly successful in continuing to expose the injustice and the vengeance with which Pakistanis’ elected prime minister has been persecuted. He has unveiled the unbridled hatred for the man whose government literally brought light back to the country, brought mega Chinese investment into the country, increased its sovereign debt rating, increased the rating of the country’s main stock exchange, provided energy to the manufacturing sector and more. The people have not taken kindly to this black joke perpetrated on them yet again.
Perhaps taking advantage of The Time’s lack of knowledge of Pakistani laws and procedures, the journalist further stated, ‘Mr Sharif, who requires permission to leave Pakistan, is ready to quit politics.’ This was the most absurd claim. Mr Sharif has travelled in and out of Pakistan at least ten times since his ouster without any ‘permissions’ – as he has not been convicted of any crime. Besides, if any citizen is to be placed on the exit control list (ECL), there is a procedure that has to be followed by the interior ministry based on a legal footing. Not only does any legal reason not exist to bar him from leaving, but it is his own government at the center running the interior ministry, which will not take any such step without basis against its own party leader. Today’s Pakistan is not General Pervaiz Musharraf’s jungle where such things can be achieved easily. Where there are unprincipled persons in high offices, there are principled persons too: take the case of the Hudaiybiya appeal being thrown out by a second bench of the Supreme Court.
Nawaz Sharif understands that a direct coup is out of the question. The 18th amendment and General Pervaiz Musharraf’s predicament today rule it out. The only options left are to imprison him via false cases. But his movement of exposing those who have ousted him unfairly have made that very difficult, as the people are with him. Perhaps the masterminds of this joke with Pakistan now realise that the judiciary and the military are being criticized at every barbar’s and every cholay-wala’s, and that too in Punjab; social media, which has 45 million users in Pakistan, is openly derisive about the recent doings of the two institutions, and openly contemptuous of the treatment being meted out to their elected representatives.
The meet in Saudi Arabia may be yet another attempt by the establishment to persuade Nawaz Sharif to quit politics. But my bet is that that will not happen and analysts predicting the opposite will eat humble pie yet again, just like the last ten times they predicted that Sharif had accepted a ‘deal’ and had ‘run away’ and would not be returning to the country. I would argue that Sharif is at his strongest politically, and will leverage that strength to fight back – it makes no sense to make compromises from a position of strength. Were he not so strong, he would not be the target of every political party that cannot hope to gain a respectable number of seats in parliament in the general election next year; were he not so powerful, innumerable attempts would not have been made to somehow scare him into quitting politics. Everyone knows his popularity has soared, and anyone daring to imprison him on false charges will have to reckon with the wrath of the people. Hence the psyops and attempts to induce disappointment and despair with fake news of Sharif doing a runner.
The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.