2019 Trends: Minus Two Squared to Dominate Pakistan Politics in 2019
The political battle to ease out the Sharifs and Zardaris from politics seems the main theme in Pakistan in the year ahead.
2018 was a seminal year in Pakistan politics. A sitting Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif was not only deposed by the Courts but also disqualified from holding any political office, while a long time opposition leader and successful cricket captain, Imran Khan Niazi took over as the Prime Minister on a thin majority.
Mr Sharif ends the Year sentenced in the Al-Azizia corruption case by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Court for seven years and is presently lodged in the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore which may become a perch for him for some time to come unless he is accorded relief by the Supreme Court.
But that would not be the designs of Prime Minister Imran Khan who remarked on the verdict and those who defended it, tweeting, “The Panama JIT report and the fake accounts JIT report are case studies in how states fail – getting impoverished & drowning in debt. The scale and methods used for siphoning off public money are incredulous and mind-boggling.”
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I am puzzled & perplexed by those who, despite having read the two reports, are still defending the plunderers. <a href=”https://t.co/ExUNShuqdE”>https://t.co/ExUNShuqdE</a></p>— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI/status/1077513045130338304?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>December 25, 2018</a></blockquote>
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The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on fake accounts referred to by Mr Imran is linked to former President and Co-Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur.
This JIT has claimed as per the News International Pakistan a “system of corruption” in Sindh where the accused, “were minting more than Rs40 million monthly and then laundering through hawala and hundi through some 120 frontmen, Ayyan Ali, Younas Kudwai and Abdul Jabbar in particular”.
Some 25 properties owned by Zardari and Talpur abroad have also been claimed by the JIT, both the accused are presently on anticipatory bail.
Prime Minister Khan facing a major financial crisis in the country has blamed the same on the corruption by high leaders and has vowed to clean up the system by putting his political opponents behind bars.
The opposition leadership on the other hand is claiming that this is a selective campaign that is aimed at easing out the top leadership of the two main opposition parties – PPP’s Zardari and Talpur and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) Nawaz Sharif and younger brother Shahbaz Sharif.
The above could be interestingly depicted in an algebraic formula Two (Parties) and Two (Leaders from each) could be depicted as Two Square 22
The Opposition has dubbed this as a campaign of, “selected accountability by a selected prime minister”.
“The first case in which Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, the crime ascertained was that he did not take salary from his son,” said former federal minister Ahsan Iqbal of the PML N. “And this time the allegation levelled is that ‘since your son sent you money, therefore you stand disqualified’. “Now I want to raise a question that up to 3.5 million Pakistanis in the Middle East remit money to their families, so would they be considered their business partners or co-owners? If any son sends money to his parents, will they be held guilty?,” he said at a press conference.
Defending Mr Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Sherry Rehman has made similar claims and indicated in the Senate that showing the JIT, “slides on a projector in the courtroom raised a big question mark and alleged that attempts were under way to make Asif Ali Zardari and the PPP leadership controversial”.
Importantly Pakistan media has highlighted that the verdict against Mian Nawaz Sharif was made based on presumptions. The News reports that, “131-page verdict [on Al-Azizia case] contains word presume for 10 times and presumption for 13 times”. The fact that he was acquitted in the Flagship Investments which ran in parallel has also invited speculation of bias.
In a previous case Mr Sharif was convicted for not being, “sadiq and amen,” or dishonest as major incriminating direct evidence was lacking.
Pakistan’s NAB has not been successful in adjudicatory cases abroad indicating low credibility. It lost a case in the London Court London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) and is due to pay the asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC, “trace assets in UK and US of more than 200 Pakistanis (called ‘targets’ in the contract) including generals, politicians, businessmen with Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif as the chief targets,” as per the News correspondent Zahid Gishkori.
This is not to say that the two leaders – Sharif and Zardari are paragons of virtue but only to underline select targeting by the government which is also the oppositions contention.
In the light of the above and their survival instincts, the truculent Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif are not likely to give up the fight easily and will resist attempts by the Imran Khan Government which is backed by the Establishment [Pakistan Army and the Supreme Court] to put them behind bars.
Importantly Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar who has been one of the most activist heads of the Supreme Court of Pakistan even trampling on the powers of the executive is due to retire on 17 January 2019.
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa will succeed him and will be in office till 12 December 2019. Khosa have the judgement that disqualified Mr Sharif from political office, thus he is not likely to relent on the campaign against corruption.
The Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is also due to retire in November 2019, thus both Khosa and Bajwa would be expected to back Mr Imran Khan’s Minus Two Squared campaign through the Year.
This could thus be the main theme in Pak politics in 2019.