DISQUALIFIED from holding public office, disqualified from holding party office and now, sentenced to 10 years in jail by an accountability court — it has been a year of massive political and personal setbacks for Nawaz Sharif.

The legal dimensions of the accountability court judgement will be pored over by independent analysts and can be assessed at a later date. The political fallout of the judgement, however, begins immediately and there are pressing questions for the PML-N.

With an appeal against the verdict in the high court almost certain, it remains to be seen whether Mr Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz face immediate jailing — that is if they return to Pakistan in the near future. In comments to the media in London after yesterday’s verdict, Mr Sharif once again pledged to return to Pakistan, but did not indicate when he would do so.

The former prime minister should abide by his pledge to return to the country, and whatever his and the PML-N’s misgivings about the legal process against him, face the courts as per the law and Constitution.

Surely, as a self-professed democrat striving for the rule of law in Pakistan, Mr Sharif should lead by example and submit to the courts as required.

For the PML-N, there are tremendous questions and little time to find satisfactory answers before the July 25 election. Shahbaz Sharif’s news conference after the verdict yesterday suggested a narrow defence of his elder brother: criticising the NAB process, but more or less silent on the wider political engineering against parts of the PML-N.

But Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, who has been convicted and sentenced to jail for seven years and now faces disqualification from elected office, took a harder line in their reactions to the media in London, suggesting the rift in the PML-N and in the Sharif family may continue. A divided party, even in the best of political climates, is unlikely to perform well in a general election.

With Shahbaz Sharif having declared that the PML-N will continue to campaign and take part in the general election, the hardliners and those advocating a more conciliatory approach within the PML-N need to quickly arrive at an adequate compromise if the PML-N is to remain one of the major parties in the next parliament.

For Pakistan, there is a double disappointment. Notwithstanding all the dubious legal manoeuvres against Nawaz Sharif, his family and the PML-N in recent times, the Sharif family ought to have explained in a forthright and credible way the source of the family’s vast wealth. Such an explanation may not have changed the course of the law against the Sharifs, but it could have set a welcome and much-needed political precedent of transparency and self-accountability.

The other disappointment is that a second consecutive historic peaceful transition of power has been sullied by the familiar machinations of anti-democratic forces.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2018

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