Bumpy road for PML-N

AFTER keeping the nation in suspense for several hours and delaying announcement of the judgement in Avenfield Reference for five times, the Accountability Court of Islamabad, on Friday, handed down the heaviest sentence on former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. Nawaz has been awarded ten year rigorous imprisonment and Maryam seven years besides additional one year for both of them on account of non-cooperation with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) during probe into the case. Nawaz has also been imposed a hefty fine of 8 million pounds and Maryam 2 million pounds while the Federal Government has been asked to confiscate the Avenfield Properties. Capt. ® Muhammad Safdar, spouse of Maryam Nawaz, has also been jailed for one year in the case.
The verdict was not unexpected as it was widely believed that only a miracle would save them from conviction because of ground realities but the nature and timing of the verdict have serious consequences and implications not just for the political future of Sharif family and PML(N) but also the country. Mian Nawaz Sharif already stands disqualified for life and stands ineligible to head any political party. The Friday’s judgement also envisages disqualification both for Maryam Nawaz, who otherwise saw a bright political future and had great ambitions, and Capt. Safdar. Both have been disqualified for ten years and strangely enough the period of disqualification would begin from completion of the jail term, which effectively means that they, on the basis of prevailing circumstances, have no chance to do politics for the remaining part of their active life. As a result of their conviction and disqualification, they are also ineligible to contest 2018 general election and now their covering candidates in the relevant constituencies would be trying their luck. Kulsoom Nawaz is already hospitalized and her health conditions are stated to be serious while two sons of Nawaz Sharif have been declared absconder. In a nutshell, the entire family of MNS is caught in a cobweb of circumstances facing legal or health issues and therefore, sidelined from practical politics. This is, indeed, a great loss and dilemma for PML(N) as general election is round the corner in less than three weeks. As Nawaz and Maryam were in London to look after ailing Kulsoom, the election campaign of PML(N) was already lacklustre and now relevant authorities are prepared to arrest them right from the airport when and if they return to Pakistan. However, MNS, who addressed a press conference in London after hearing of the verdict, was in upbeat mood and vowed to continue his struggle for what he termed ‘Give respect to Vote’. He also announced to return and face jail but did not give specific date for the purpose and conditioned his travel plans to the state of health of his spouse who is un-conscience and on ventilator. He also complained that his request for deferment of the judgement just for one week was turned down despite the fact it would have made no difference and that such a verdict has been given close to general election, which amounts to denial of level playing field to his party. He also drew solace from the fact that even the Accountability Court acknowledged that there was no bright evidence of corruption found against Nawaz, which vindicated his repeated claims that he was not guilty of corruption. Nawaz has been sentenced despite acknowledgement of the judge that establishment of the ownership of London flats was difficult and he (judge) did not give him benefit of doubt as is the legal and judicial practice the world over. Legal experts also point out that the accountability court based the judgement on a clause turned redundant by the Supreme Court. Section 9(a)(v) of NAB law declares possessing benami properties disproportionate to known sources of income as a crime but a recent judgement of the Supreme Court, authored by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, declared that prosecution has to establish a link of the property with the committing of a crime of corruption, failing which no punishment can be awarded. It is for legal team of the former Prime Minister to take care of legal lacunae but it is quite evident that the political burden now has been shifted to President of PML(N) Mian Shahbaz Sharif to steer the party successfully not just through the election process but also afterwards in the face of a host of challenging factors and circumstances. It is also to be seen whether the sentence would generate more sympathy or subdue voters and supporters of PML(N) in the election.

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