LAHORE: Appearing calm and unfazed by his conviction in the Avenfield properties case, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced that he would return home and face prison to break the shackles of fear created by a coterie of a “few judges and generals”.
Though he did not announce when he would return from London, Mr Sharif said he was waiting for his wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz to regain consciousness so he could meet her once before heading to Pakistan.
The former prime minister said that he had been advised not to leave London, and to look after his wife, adding that “I would prefer to face jail on my return than stay in London”. He rejected as rumours the reports that he had sought political asylum in the UK.
Separately in Lahore, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif announced that his party rejected the court’s decision, and said: “It is an attempt to influence the July 25 elections”.
At a press conference in London following the announcement of the verdict by the accountability court of Islamabad, the former prime minister sat with his daughter Maryam Nawaz, who has also been convicted in the case. Mr Sharif said his daughter wanted to return to Pakistan with him. “I advised her to return a few days after me but she insists that she will come with me,” he told journalists.
Mr Sharif said he knew the price he would have to pay for trying to steer the country off the course it had been on for the past 70 years. “This punishment cannot stop me from my struggle. I pledge to continue this struggle till I succeed in liberating Pakistanis from the shackles of fear created by a few judges and generals. We did not take freedom from the British to get enslaved by a few people,” he said, and asked why those who had taken an oath on the Constitution were now violating it.
Shahbaz says decision is ‘flawed, politically motivated’
“I will return to Pakistan and continue my struggle in jail. I urge the people of Pakistan to support me and break these chains on July 25. The PML-N is leading in the polls. If the price of my struggle is handcuffs and jail, I am willing to pay it. In 1999, I had served 14 months solitary confinement in a fake plane hijacking case,” he said, asking the people, civil society, lawyers, media and others to join hands with him in his struggle to create a new Pakistan, which would be free of the rule of a few people. “Do not abandon me. Come with me to change Pakistan for your future generations.”
He also questioned the transparency of the elections. “There has been a question mark on the transparency of elections,” he said, adding, “Who is forcing our party men to join other parties or contest independently, and are torturing our party men. Our government was sent packing in Balochistan and Mr Sanjrani was made the chairman of the Senate. Who is behind this... who are these men violating their oath.”
He urged the people to make those an example out of those who were attempting to rig the polls.
Expressing satisfaction that he had not been convicted on corruption charges, Mr Sharif said, “It is a matter of pride for me that even in this case I have not been convicted on corruption charges. I am ready to quit politics the day a single rupee worth of corruption is proved against me.”
He said he wondered at the way the case had been fast-tracked. “Interestingly, even after handing down four sentences to me, the court has not been able to establish on what grounds I have been convicted.”
On what grounds was Maryam convicted, he asked, since she had never even held public office. “Maryam and I are being punished because we talk in a straight-forward manner, and do not bow down and flatter others. That is why we are being punished,” he said.
Mr Sharif expressed the hope that soon other parties that were a part of this “dirty game” would realise their mistake and repent for being party to it. He said he had always stuck to the Charter of Democracy, but the other party (PPP) had not.
Speaking at the press conference, Maryam Nawaz explained why the court had framed corruption references against her. “I had a choice to reconcile with the hidden hands but I chose to challenge them because my father was on the right path. They (the hidden hands) are making an example out of us because we had challenged them. Someone has to take them up. We will live in Pakistan and will die there,” she said.
Soon after the accountability court announced its verdict, Shahbaz Sharif held a press conference in Model Town and rejected the decision. “History will remember this verdict in black words. The decision is flawed, politically motivated and has glaring loopholes. It is based on oppression and cruelty. The name of Nawaz Sharif was not mentioned in the Panama Papers, nor was it there as the owner of Avenfield flats,” he said.
“There is no denying the fact that NAB has dual standards of justice. Proven corruption cases have been pending before NAB for many years — some as old as 10 years — but no action was taken. Our party is being targeted. Justice on a pick-and-choose basis is no justice.”
In reply to a question, he said the PML-N had no plans to boycott the elections, adding that they would opt for legal course to get justice and “we will go to any extent necessary”.
Over a dozen PML-N workers held a demonstration in Model Town against the verdict. Some party leaders reportedly criticised the local leadership for not taking out their workers to lodge a strong protest against the judgement.
Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2018