The judiciary must give it to Nawaz Sharif that he has fulfilled his pledge to return to Pakistan after being sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment on charges of corruption by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The former Prime Minister and daughter Maryam have kept their pledge at a profoundly emotive juncture for the family ~ Sharif’s wife is battling for life in her final hours in England. That fact alone should confirm that Sharif sees his return as a last-ditch effort to shore up the fortunes of his party. Even the verdict was not deferred, as pleaded by Sharif’s counsel, in view of the terminal condition of Kulsoom Nawaz.
Both father and daughter have accepted their nemesis; both are now in the custody of the law and whether or not they have been accorded ‘B’ class imprisonment as orchestrated by the jail authorities is of lesser moment in the overall construct. With barely ten days to go for the national elections, the party founded by and named after Nawaz Sharif is now as disoriented as it is rudderless. And yet with Sharif behind bars at Adiala jail, a sympathy wave for the former PM can scarcely be ruled out, not least in Lahore, where he has been incarcerated, and the rest of Pakistan’s dominant province of Punjab. Markedly, the political class is not suitably euphoric and the outcome remains ever so uncertain despite the severe crisis that plagues the PML(N) and its interim government. No reaction from the flamboyant Imran Khan either.
If the immediate response of the caretaker administration in Islamabad and the party’s government in Punjab is any indication, it is not surprising that the party as a whole has been given a raw deal. The PML(N) was barred from holding a lawful meeting to protest the incarceration of a person who remains its de facto leader. In the wake of the NAB order, Sharif had let it be known that he would return to Pakistan, there to be arrested. Nothing that the PML-N leader had said in the run-up to his return suggested that he was seeking a violent confrontation between his party’s leadership and supporters and the law-enforcement personnel.
As it turned out, not even a feeble confrontation had greeted his return, far less his imprisonment. Of course, precautionary measures were imperative ahead of the elections; but the caretaker administrations at the centre and in Punjab went on overdrive because it viewed all attempts to galvanise support for the fallen leader through the electoral prism. Arguably, physical resistance, violence or untoward incidents triggered by his supporters would have run counter to Mr Sharif’s stated political aims. Nawaz and Maryam Sharif have ensured that the law takes it course. Pakistan is at the crossroads as it waits for elections to take their course. The results will script the next act in the Sharif drama.