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Back to prison

Updated December 24, 2018

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Nawaz Sharif has returned to prison, Asif Zardari appears to be a step closer to disqualification or prison — and once again the country’s politics has been plunged into uncertainty.

The PML-N supremo has been convicted by an accountability court in one of the two remaining references against him, while the PPP boss has had sweeping allegations laid against him in the so-called fake bank accounts investigation. Mr Sharif’s legal troubles are certainly more severe: permanent disqualification from elected office, a temporarily suspended 11-year conviction and now a seven-year sentence.

NAB will appeal Mr Sharif’s acquittal in the third accountability reference against him, while Mr Sharif will appeal his latest conviction. Those facts alone suggest that there remains a long legal road ahead for Mr Sharif, and as such the former prime minister ought to continue cooperating with and submitting to the law as he is required to do. Whatever misgivings the Sharif family and the PML-N have about the accountability process against them, legal battles must be fought in conformity with the law.

The legal proceedings against Mr Zardari are still in their preliminary stages, but the fact that the Supreme Court is seized of the matter under its suo motu powers could lead to swift consequences. And while a Joint Investigation Team report is not the same as conclusive evidence that has withstood judicial scrutiny, the allegations against Mr Zardari are serious and the Supreme Court is likely to press him and others implicated in the JIT report to provide adequate responses.

Once again, whatever misgivings Mr Zardari and the PPP have about the legal proceedings against them it is important that they cooperate with and submit to the law as is required of them. Tainted proceedings are often eventually exposed as such, but the danger in fighting legal troubles in the political arena is that it can cause system-wide instability. The country is already in a perilous economic situation and political brinkmanship will surely only hurt the very people the political leadership is meant to represent.

Yet, as the PML-N and PPP consider their future courses of action, it is also important that the PTI government not unnecessarily add to political tensions. Despite the PTI government having repeatedly pledged that NAB is an independent organisation, it was Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry who held a press conference yesterday to ostensibly explain the conviction of Mr Sharif.

Certainly, while the PTI has staked a great deal of its politics on the ouster of its political opponents on corruption allegations, the federal government may be courting unnecessary trouble for itself. Only recently a parliamentary impasse was broken by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s sensible decision to abide by parliamentary norms and offer the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif. Restraint and good sense are needed on all sides.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2018