A Pakistani court has sentenced former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader, Nawaz Sharif, to ten years imprisonment in a corruption case related to the acquisition of luxury flats in London. Sharif's daughter, Maryam Sharif too has received a seven-year sentence.
The timing of this sentencing is significant, coming just three weeks before the country's general elections on 25 July. Exit polls have already predicted a hung National Assembly with a close race between Sharifs' PML-N and Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Nawaz had already been disqualified last year to contest these elections, and his brother Shehbaz Sharif is now leading the party to the polls.
While the international community is celebrating another successful completion of tenure by Pakistan's civilian government, it is clear that what is in fact underway in Pakistan is the classic case of 'soft coup', a game perfected by the Pakistan Army through its control of the so-called independent judiciary. The Avenfield case and Sharif’s disqualification makes clear an attempt at election engineering by the powerful military to enhance the fortunes of the PTI and all the other extremist political parties – Lashkar-e-Taiba supported Milli Muslim League (through Allaha-u-Akbar Tehreek), Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan and ultra-conservative Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal, all of which have entered the electoral arena this year seeking to benefit from the discrediting of the PML-N and PPP, with adequate propping up by Rawalpindi.
Consider this: Sharif’s disqualification last year came at the end of the eight-month-long process which was initiated by the accusation from the PTI leader Imran Khan. The PTI’s clamouring for a trial led the court to hear the petition on Sharif for corruption after the Panama Papers accused his family of money laundering. The court’s orders to the National Accountability Bureau to file the case were based upon the evidence collected by the court-appointed joint investigation team. This team curiously consisted of judges, one of whom was allegedly a member of the PTI. The team also consisted of two officials from the military intelligence and Inter-Services Intelligence. This was the team which ‘fairly and impartially’ investigated the evidence against Sharif and his family.
By convicting Sharif, the court has in fact selectively done the application of justice. Because the same urgency to apply justice is not evident in the case of military leaders, such as General (R) Pervez Musharraf. It hardly needs to be mentioned that General Musharraf who was to be tried for the 2007 suspension of the constitution managed to wriggle out of trial and then Pakistan, with the army’s blessings and in spite of the persistent civilian pressure. He is yet to be held accountable for subverting the Pakistani constitution and continues to live in a comfortable exile in London and Dubai.
What had irked the army further was Sharif’s strategy of going after the militant and extremist groups — strategic assets for the army for hitting at India. Sharif may not have done much to enhance ties with India, but his public statements on India reflected that he intended to do more, which was in direct contrast to the Pakistani Army’s position.
As noted American expert on Pakistan, Christine Fair has noted in her book Fighting to the End, if other countries have armies, the Pakistani Army has a country. So, a powerful civilian leader Nawaz Sharif was a thorn for the army. The timing and nature of sentencing of the Sharifs in the Avenfield case suggest an insidious strategy by the army to interfere in the electoral process, under the façade of an independent judiciary seeking to weed out corruption.
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