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PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: The reopening of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases implicating leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has raised many eye-brows, more so because the cases have been picked up four long years after the Pakistan People’s People (PPP) first took charge at the helm of affairs.

Not only has the PPP government woken up on NAB cases involving the Sharif family, Rehman Malik, advisor on interior, has also written to the Qatari government for extradition of Saifur Rehman, who headed the NAB during PMLN’s second government.

Mr Rehman currently resides in Qatar and recently claimed that he was in possession of documented evidence on Zardari’s bank deposits in Swiss banks, and proof against General Pervez Musharraf for his alleged involvement in major kickbacks.

Given that former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani throughout his tenure boasted of his record of not getting into political victimisation of his opposition, the key questions are: why has President Asif Ali Zardari chosen this particular point in time to move NAB against Sharif family, and more importantly what has prompted the PPP leadership to change its policy of political reconciliation towards the PML-N.While political observers are connecting the re-opening of NAB cases and extradition of Mr Rehman as part of the PPP government’s move against Sharif brothers, when Dawn spoke to senior politicians working with both parties, the reaction was mixed. Some explained that this belated move was a typical tactic in an election year whereby opposition parties are slandered by the government. Others thought it was part of President Zardari’s strategy to place pressure on the Sharif brothers to compel them to fall in line with his game plan for the next general elections.

“The Sharif brothers have this bad habit of panicking under pressure, which President Zardari knows quite well,” claimed a senior politician who has worked closely with Mian Nawaz Sharif, but is now sitting in the ruling coalition with the PPP, “the PMLN is threatened by the rising popularity level of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf in Punjab.”

To another question, he replied: “President Zardari wants the PPP government to complete its constitutional term, which ends in March next year, at all costs. He strongly believes that the NAB cases could be used as a plea bargain by the PPP leadership when it talks with the PML-N over the composition of the caretaker set-up.”

However, another high-level source within the PPP was quite candid in laying bare the rivalry behind the re-opening of NAB cases.

“It is payback time for the PML-N. For the last four years, officials and leaders from top to bottom of the PML-N have maligned the Bhutto family for its alleged corruption cases. Now, let’s have them face music,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

He then reasoned that this was to be expected given elections will be taking place soon enough. “It happens every time during election year. Look at what the US President Barak Obama and Republican presumptive candidate, Mitt Romney, are doing with each in the ongoing US presidential election campaign. If Mr Romney has accused President Obama of political payoffs, he is being assaulted for his controversial record as head of an equity company,” he added.

He ominously concluded that before the general elections take place, the Sharif brothers would have their share of media-attention for their alleged involvement in corruption scandals.

Another PPP leader on the condition of anonymity said that the cases were already pending against members of the Sharif family, and the NAB has just moved an application for their re-hearing and resolution.

“The move has generated immense media interest, and with the 24/7 media coverage, TV channels need juicy news to fill-in their news bulletins, so such stories would always be discussed to death,” he added.

However, chief spokesperson for the PPP and federal information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, when asked for his comments over the matter argued that if sitting ministers of the government could face cases and serve jail sentence, then the Sharif brothers should also get their names cleared from these cases.

When pressed further, the information minister replied: “In the presence of an independent judiciary in the country, it is wrong to put the blame on the ruling party that it was trying to achieve political mileage of these cases against the PML-N leaders.”

On the other hand, Senator Pervez Rashid of the PML-N felt that even earlier the PPP governments in the 90s and later on General Pervez Musharraf tried their best to use these cases against Sharif family, but could prove nothing. “Thus, we have nothing to worry about as far as these cases are concerned,” he said confidently.