The arrest of PML-N Chief and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) office in Lahore on October 5 has evoked speculations of various hues. The younger Sharif has been known for his proximity to the country’s establishment and skills of wheeling-dealing with powerful quarters.
Some people think that Shahbaz’s arrest is part of a ‘script’ that will benefit him as he will get a clean chit after spending some time in the NAB’s custody. He will be able to continue his political voyage without any hurdle or pressure in the future, they think.
However, the party cadre believes that Sharif’s arrest was part of the political victimisation that the party, especially the Sharif family, was being subjected to just a week before the by-elections. Opposition parties have come out in his support. PPP leadership, including Syed Khursheed Shah and party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has been quite vocal in criticising the arrest of the Leader of the Opposition in this manner. The echoes of ‘political victimisation’ were clearly heard among the political circles, and no one saw it as a transparent exercise in accountability.
The ruling PTI was obviously not happy with the hue and cry raised over Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest and no less than Prime Minister Imran Khan had to say in a press conference in Lahore that the younger Sharif should have been arrested much earlier, and that NAB was an independent institution and government had nothing to do with the arrest.
Shahbaz Sharif was arrested on Friday when he went to attend an inquiry at NAB’s Lahore office. Interestingly, his elder brother and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested 10 days before the July 2018 general election. Everybody was taken aback as the news flashed on the media. PTI’s media managers were so oblivious to the case that Punjab’s Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan initially said that Sharif was arrested in Saaf Pani (clean water) case. Later, a NAB’s press release clarified that he was arrested in Ashiana Housing Scheme.
According to sources in NAB, Fawad Hassan Fawad being Secretary (Implementation) to CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif had misused his authority and called the CEO, Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), Tahir Khursheed and Project Director Ali Moazzam unlawfully and directed both to cancel the contract of Ashiana-i-Iqbal Project with M/S Ch Latif & Sons. M/S Latif & Sons was a legal and lowest bidder, whereas it was given the project in accordance with Punjab Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules. And, it had been doing the development work for the last eight months before the cancellation of the project, according to these sources.
However, the counsel of Sharif, Azam Nazir Tarar, has a different view. “The way Shahbaz Sharif has been arrested is ridiculous and sheer deception. He was summoned in an inquiry about Saaf Pani case on October 5 but was arrested in Ashiana Housing Scheme case.
“Another ‘deception’ is that NAB had issued his arrest warrants on October 2 but had kept them secret. Legally, my clients should have been informed about the warrants but NAB did not follow the law. All cases against Shahbaz Sharif are based on allegations like misuse of authority and awarding of contracts in which there is no charge of personal or financial gains.”
Tarar says that NAB, headed by a former judge of the superior courts, “has been handling legal affairs in an extremely unfair manner which hurts the spirit of the law and the constitution. They cannot arrest the Leader of the Opposition in this manner.”
PML-N leader Azma Bukhari says that Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest is part of the written script that was used before the general elections when Nawaz Sharif and Maryam were arrested. “By-elections are the most crucial political event and Shahbaz’s arrest is meaningful at this time,” she says, adding, “But, PML-N has Nawaz and Maryam and they will have to come to the forefront.
“I also fear that Saad Rafique who will easily win his seat for NA-131 might be arrested on the next hearing for which Rafique has moved the Lahore High Court for pre-arrest bail.”
Analyst Dr Mehdi Hasan says, “NAB’s action does not carry any weight. NAB could have earned credibility by arresting Shahbaz Sharif at the time when he was in power.”
Meanwhile, PML-N legislators in the National and Punjab Assembly have already started protesting his arrest. On Wednesday and Thursday, the PML-N legislators held a meeting outside the Punjab Assembly to display their power. The speaker National Assembly has issued production orders of Shahbaz Sharif for the next session on October 17.
Apart from Imran Khan’s presser, the Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has also dispelled the charge of ‘political victimisation’ by the government: “NAB is an independent organisation now and PTI will further strengthen it by giving it more autonomy. The government has nothing to do with NAB’s actions and affairs.”