Barely a week after Pakistan’s anti-graft court sentenced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to 10 years in prison for corruption in connection with the purchase of luxury apartments in London, Sharif is in jail.
Sharif, who has been helming Pakistan’s political scene for the last 30 years, was in London to see his ailing wife Kulsoom when the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sentenced him in absentia. He decided to return and face the trial. He was arrested on arrival in Lahore on July 13 – less than two weeks before Pakistan’s general election.
Thousands of supporters of his party – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – which won the last general elections in 2013, came out in a show of support for him and his daughter Maryam, who was also arrested on the same charge. Maryam Nawaz in recent months has become a senior leader in the party and is being seen as Sharif’s political heir.
The appeals challenging the conviction of Sharif, daughter Maryam and her husband Mohammed Safdar, were filed in the court on July 16.
Sixty-eight-year old Sharif’s troubles began in July last when he was disqualified from holding public office by the Supreme Court. Sharif, who was then prime minister, was disqualified over an unreported source of annual income from his son’s Dubai-based firm.
The charges against Sharif and his family stem from revelations contained in the Panama Papers leak of 2016 – Sharif’s family members owned expensive residential properties in London that were not properly reported under Pakistani disclosure rules.
At the time of his ouster, the Supreme Court had directed NAB, Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog, to file cases against Sharif, his daughter Maryam, two sons and his son-in-law Mohammed Safdar.
The former premier left for Saudi Arabia on December 30, 2017 amid reports of a “deal” for the possible exile of the embattled Sharif family. But he returned to Pakistan with his daughter Maryam to attend the next hearing of the case.
“This case in the National Accountability Bureau is highly bogus and fake, which doesn’t have links to corruption,” Sharif had said then, comparing the process to charges laid against him after Pervez Musharraf ousted him and seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.
Three-time Prime Minister
Sharif has served three times as prime minister, with his last stint beginning in May 2013 after a sweeping electoral victory that resulted in the first peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another after the creation of Pakistan in 1947.
Sharif served as prime minister from 1990 to 1993 and from 1997 until the bloodless coup of 1999.
His last period in office was full of hurdles – starting with a six-month opposition blockade of the capital Islamabad, and ending with his disqualification to hold public office.
Sharif who retains control of the PML-N says his sentencing was part of a military-backed conspiracy to deny his party a second term in office and to take revenge for trying to limit the army’s influence.
Sharif was born into a family of industrialists and is counted amongst the wealthiest industrialists in Pakistan. He is also seen as a disciple of military leader Gen Zia ul-Haq – who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988. Sharif was overthrown in a military coup by then army chief Pervez Musharraf, who went on to become Pakistan’s president.
Sharif and his family were exiled to Saudi Arabia for what was supposed to be a period of 10 years. However, he managed an early return in 2007 to contest the general elections.
Analysts believe the military establishment wanted to put Sharif under pressure so as to prevent him from expanding trading ties with India. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew into Lahore on his way back from Kabul in December 2015 to meet Sharif.
What the future holds
The going may not be easy for Nawaz Sharif.
According to media reports, on the day of his return Pakistan’s media regulator warned media companies against airing footage of the return.
Many observers expect the party will fail to retain its parliamentary majority in the election with many of its candidates having crossed over to the rival Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s party.
Sharif is banking on his brother Shahbaz, 65, to take his legacy forward. Shahbaz is considered less confrontational with the armed forces.
Pakistan’s 70-year history has been marred by confrontations between civilian authorities and the military. Only time will tell who will win this round.