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6 THINGS THAT CAN * STILL * HAUNT THE SHARIFS

August 06, 2017
Shahbaz Sharif might also discover that a popular mandate is not enough to keep a PM in the saddle | White Star
Shahbaz Sharif might also discover that a popular mandate is not enough to keep a PM in the saddle | White Star

1. Mayfair Apartments

In the cacophony surrounding the prime minister’s ouster, one critical fact has been obscured: the original assertions made in the Panama Papers about Nawaz Sharif’s children Hassan, Hussain and Maryam were about their beneficial ownership of offshore companies. Two of them are of particular interest: Nielsen Enterprises Ltd and Nescoll Ltd, both registered in the British Virgin Islands and managed by a company in Switzerland. These companies own four apartments in the upscale London locality of Mayfair. The Sharifs accepted ownership of the flats during the Panama Papers case hearings.

The judgement in the Panama Papers case which disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif actually did not resolve the question of where the money used to purchase the apartments came from.

The matter remains unresolved.

The Supreme Court judgement that knocked out Nawaz Sharif may only be the tip of the iceberg

2. Hudaibya Paper Mills

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was widely tipped to become the prime minister on a permanent basis after an initial period in the office by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, but that plan may have to be put off if the ongoing judicial cases against the Sharifs gather more steam.

Part of this has to do with allegations of money laundering through the Hudaibya Paper Mills, which would implicate both Nawaz and Shahbaz. Charges were first framed after the Nawaz government was taken down by General Pervez Musharraf. With senior PML-N leaders put behind bars, Ishaq Dar was identified as an approver in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case. In a hand-written statement that Dar later claimed was obtained under duress, the financial workings of how money entered the Hudaibya Paper Mills’ bank account in the late 1990s were detailed. In the confession, he claimed to have been working under the Sharifs’ orders while the total amount of money laundered was about 14.86 million US dollars.

Although the reference against the Sharifs was quashed by the Lahore High Court in 2014, the SC has ordered the case to be reopened.

3. Enforced Disappearances

Democratic governments have seldom escaped the blame for crimes they haven’t committed. On July 27, 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Pakistan to criminalise enforced disappearances in a bid to stop the practice of secret detention. Earlier this year, in January, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had shrugged off the notion of missing persons by claiming that enforced disappearances wasn’t the policy of the PML-N government. He argued that the phenomenon was rampant between 2002 and 2008.

And yet, families of those allegedly missing from Balochistan and Sindh in particular have been protesting for the past decade. In Karachi, for example, scores of MQM activists are still missing four years into the Karachi Operation. Much like the charges of extrajudicial killings in Karachi that took down both the Benazir and Nawaz governments in the 1990s, enforced disappearances too present a dangling threat to the PML-N.

4. Model Town Massacre

On June 17, 2014, unarmed activists of Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) clashed with heavily armed riot police in Lahore’s Model Town. Tempers were already running high in the lead up to the clash as the PAT chief had arrived from Canada to join an anti-government front to dislodge the government on charges of rigging. Although PAT had obtained a stay order on security barriers erected outside the offices of Minhaj-ul-Quran, the police moved to remove these barriers in the name of an “anti-encroachments drive.”

PAT activists retaliated and this sparked a larger fight — 14 PAT workers were killed and over 100 injured as the police opened fire at unarmed protestors. The incident shot a baton-wielding goon named Gullu Butt to fame; he was believed to be loyal to senior PML-N leaders. Butt was later sentenced to 11 years in prison but police officers accused of killing citizens were given a clean chit by an anti-terrorism court in April this year. However Tahirul Qadri continues to hold Shahbaz Sharif’s government responsible for the killings and push for the case to be examined anew.

5. Protecting sectarian outfits

The 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, which was launched in the wake of the December 16, 2014 massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar, decreed zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab. No militant outfit or armed gang was to be allowed to exist while terror financing was to be choked. All efforts were to be made in ensuring that proscribed organisations would not re-emerge.

Some two-and-a-half years later, while NAP has slithered into the lowest rung of priorities for the government, three high-profile bombings have already taken place in Lahore this year. All three attacks were claimed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Meanwhile, inside sources say part of the tension between the Sharifs and the military originated from the perception that the Punjab government dragged its feet over taking on the Punjab-based militants for reasons of political expediency. The facilitation that PML-N has consistently shown towards the virulently sectarian Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat chief Ahmed Ludhianvi has often been cited as proof of it putting electoral alliances above taking security issues seriously. This soft-corner might yet come to haunt the Sharifs if the military uses the turmoil to renew its focus on militancy in the Punjab.

6. Nehal Hashmi and contempt of court proceedings

On November 27, 1997, leaders and activists of the PML-N and its associated Muslim Students Federation breached the security cordon around the Supreme Court while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s lawyer SM Zafar was defending him in a contempt case before then Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.

Relations between Nawaz and Sajjad had soured ever since the latter had voted against the restoration of Nawaz’s government in May 1993 after President Ghulam Ishaq Khan had removed him. The fracas was aimed at intimidating Sajjad Ali Shah but also to remind him of who called the shots.

Fast forward 20 years and Nehal Hashmi, the former president of PML-N’s Karachi party, adopted the same route of trying to intimidate the judiciary while the Panama Papers case was being heard. Critics allege that Hashmi made the statements with the tacit approval of the Sharifs, even though he was later removed from his party office. He was first charged with contempt and later on, terrorism charges were added to his crimes. The case is now being heard by an anti-terrorism court.

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 6th, 2017