Sharif guilty verdict brings fresh Pakistan election fears
Former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif says 10-year prison sentence is a military-judiciary conspiracy as country now looks to July 25th elections
Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday in a verdict that will have wide-ranging political ramifications ahead of the country’s July 25th general election.
The verdict is from one of the three cases filed against Sharif and his family by Pakistan’s federal anti-corruption body, the National Accountability Bureau. It comes after he was ousted as prime minister by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last year following a corruption investigation centered around the ownership of four UK flats in London’s high-end Mayfair district.
The Sharif family has always maintained the properties were acquired through legitimate means. However the corruption court in Islamabad ruled the Sharif family gave contradictory evidence to support their claims and sentenced the former PM, in absentia, to 10 years in prison while also fining him $10.5 million.
Nawaz Sharif had earlier requested a delay in the trial announcement as he and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, are with his wife, Kulsoom, who is in London receiving medical treatment for cancer.
Maryam was also sentenced and received a seven year jail term and was fined US$2.65 million. His son-in-law, Muhammad Safdar Awan, was given a one-year jail term. Maryam Nawaz was expected to lead the centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) election campaign but the verdict now makes her ineligible.
Her father Nawaz led the party until he was also made ineligible after last year’s corruption investigation and since he was ousted from Pakistan political life, in July 2017, he has alleged a military-judiciary alliance has been working to sideline him and the PML-N. Nawaz now faces arrest if he returns to the country.
The Sharif family has been openly critical of the trial investigation team, saying it is closely linked to their main political rivals, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, and is being guided by officials from military intelligence.
Two PML-N leaders, who spoke to Asia Times on the condition of anonymity, believe Nawaz will challenge the verdict but will also return to Pakistan from the UK and may even serve prison time to “gain political mileage”. The pair said the verdict proves that the judiciary has been “taking orders” from Pakistan’s military leadership and say this will only strengthen their party’s position in the upcoming general election.
Shehbaz Sharif, the current PML-N President and Nawaz’s brother, also dismissed the verdict. “Today will be remembered as a black day [for Pakistan],” he said at a press conference.
However, the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party is celebrating the Nawaz verdict as a vindication of its political stance for the past five years and now expects to do well in the upcoming elections. “Pakistanis… don’t care about those who are done and dusted… and that is what Nawaz Sharif now is following today’s verdict,” Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party leader Ejaz Chaudhry told Asia Times. “The PML-N is on the verge of extinction while we are putting forward a very strong lineup for the elections.”
Political observers are now asking if the verdict against Nawaz Sharif might give the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf a chance of forming the next government in Pakistan, possibly in alliance with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Bilawal Bhutto, who now heads the PPP, has been attracting large crowds at his election campaign rallies. While there is no formal alliance between these two parties, the possibility has not been ruled out.
Last month Pakistan was put on the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force’s “Grey List” for failing to curb anti-terror financing and there are many in the country who fear a government led by Imran Khan will champion conservative Islamic ideals and encourage more radicalization in the country and that this will only lead to more instability, in Pakistan and across South Asia.