Nawaz verdict: Politically motivated accountability? Does NAB have credibility? Is the case airtight?

Experts give their initial take on the ruling.
Published December 24, 2018

An accountability court has handed ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference, and acquitted him in the Flagship Investments reference. spoke to senior commentators and experts to have their initial take on the ruling.

'NAB's credibility is under question'

Zahid Hussain, senior journalist and Dawn columnist

It seems that this judgment may have sealed Nawaz Sharif's political career but it is not certain whether it is the end of Sharif’s political dynasty as well.

As for the political repercussions at this point in time, the party will not take to the streets; there is a clear indication that they will not go to that extent.

But it seems that despite all this — the conviction, sentence and trial — Nawaz still has a strong power base in central Punjab.

The ruling will have a long-term political impact on the country’s politics. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) remains one of the strongest political forces in Pakistan and I think it will be very difficult for the establishment or for anyone to break them.

The PML-N is not displaced, but certainly there is a big question mark on Nawaz's political career. It seems that it will be very difficult for him to come back, but the PML-N will survive as a political force.

The problem with the accountability — or so-called accountability — process is that... I’m not saying that the charges against him have been concocted, but there is certainly a big question mark on the way the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been working. That is one of the reasons that the verdict is seen as political victimisation.

So there is certainly a political aspect to the whole thing, it’s not just simple 'accountability' or 'justice being done'.

NAB's credibility is under question.

'Accountability in Pakistan is always politically motivated'

Arifa Noor, Dawn columnist and former Dawn's Islamabad Resident Editor

The political repercussions are no different from what they were after the first conviction, which is just that, politically, this is going to be a difficult time for the Sharif family as well as the political party.

Obviously, Nawaz has already been disqualified by the Supreme Court; there is no hope of reprieve in that case unless parliament changes the law. He was out on bail, but that bail was also contested in the Supreme Court, and now he’s disqualified plus convicted in another case.

Shahbaz Sharif also faces a number of allegations and is in detention at the moment. Hamza Shahbaz also seems to be under a cloud. Maryam Nawaz has been convicted in one case.

At the moment, it seems there’s no one in the family who is legally allowed to — who is legally in a comfortable position — to run the party.

That creates a problem for the family, and then it creates a problem for the party because the party is named after the Sharifs and this is the first family.

Apart from that, there are a number of senior political leaders of the party — the loyalists; members of the kitchen cabinet — also facing legal cases, references or allegations at the moment

Khawaja Saad Rafique is under arrest, Khawaja Asif is said to be out of the country; there are reports of investigations against Ahsan Iqbal, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Rana Sanaullah... Shahid Khaqan Abbasi I think is also being questioned in the LNG case.

So as I said, it’s politically and legally a difficult time for the party and the family — and the legal cases are just one part of it

After a long time — for the first time since 2002 — the party is out of power in Punjab and in the Centre despite having a decent number of seats — which is different from 2002.

But like 2002, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that effort was put into denying them their due share of power.

You see, the thing is, accountability in Pakistan is always politically motivated — or unmotivated, for that matter.

Under Nawaz's second tenure, the Ehtesab Commission was used to go after enemies or dissenting voices; Musharraf then revamped it and it played a similar role and we all heard about the Pakistan People's Party-Patriots and all that.

Then, during the five years of the PPP rule and then partly during the PML-N rule, these parties ensured that NAB would be quite toothless.

Now the tables have turned and it’s become very active — and 'too active'.

Some of the allegations are that the NAB's activities are partial, or not fair in the sense that some political parties or personalities are being targeted aggressively, while others are not.

While it may be true, this is what NAB has been accused of since day one, and even when it doesn't function, we know that it is because of political influence.

Somewhere down the line, all the major political forces need to figure out how to make NAB truly independent and autonomous so that it doesn’t seem that its change of focus is coming at a whim or due to somebody’s pressure.

And that will ensure it is autonomous and then perhaps we will raise less questions about the partiality of the accountability drive.

'If Maryam doesn’t jump in, I see a leadership crisis within PML-N'

Owais Tohid, senior journalist and host of Crosscheck

Can we call it a mixed bag? Punishment in one case and acquittal in another. The harsh fact is that Nawaz has been sentenced for seven years.

The acquittal in Flagship case will definitely trigger a legal battle in the days to come, that either all the properties in three cases belonged to Nawaz or none.

PML-N leaders have something to defend in talk shows but it is a tough situation for the Sharifs who are already locked in battle with the establishment.

Political parties do face legal and political battles but usually not both at the same time.

The elder Sharif is in jail, Shahbaz is under NAB custody probably ready to go abroad for treatment, and the party itself doesn’t have a history of politics of resistance.

Only Maryam, who has now broken her mysterious silence through her tweets, can come to the party’s rescue and hold the Sharifs’ mantle.

But Maryam being a saviour is also a headache for many party leaders, including her uncle, because she is headline material and bitterly critical of the establishment’s role.

Now that Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur are also under the debris of the fake accounts scandal, it is likely that both the parties might join hands.

If Zardari vanishes from the political scene, PPP politics, in my opinion, might flourish under Bilawal Bhutto

And I cannot rule out Asefa Bhutto’s role along with Bilawal if Zardari goes to prison. However, if Maryam doesn’t jump in the political field, I see a leadership crisis within the PML-N.

It seems we are heading for a minus one formula and a lot will depend on the reaction of opposition parties.

If the PPP and the PML-N revisit history by signing any accord, it might create a political crisis for both the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the establishment.

'Appeal will be centred upon whether the prosecution has built an airtight case'

Ali Chughtai, public interest lawyer

Nawaz Sharif has the right to appeal the accountability court’s order under Section 32 of the NAB Ordinance before two judges of the Islamabad High Court (IHC). The IHC has inherent powers to accept the appeal, suspend the sentence pending appeal and/or overrule the sentence altogether.

The IHC suspended the previous Avenfield reference on appeal due to the prosecution not sufficiently showing that the purchase of the Avenfield apartments was disproportionate to Sharif's known sources of income.

According to the IHC, the prosecution did not adequately quantify Nawaz Sharif’s exact income, sources of his income, details of his pecuniary resources, and the value of the Avenfield apartments at the time he had acquired them. Without exact figures to compare and contrast, the prosecution did not discharge its onus.

The Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference’s validity on appeal will be centred upon whether the prosecution has, on this occasion, built an airtight case to the extent that they successfully quantified each of the aforementioned factors, and presented witnesses with sufficient knowledge to corroborate the same.