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Shahbaz Arrest: Timed for Byepolls?

Published Oct 06, 2018
Updated Jul 04, 2020

Sharifs who have held power in Punjab province for umpteen years can be cornered for corruption, but the timing of the arrest smirks political vendetta

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB)  arrested the opposition leader in National Assembly and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif in Rs14-billion Ashiana-i-Iqbal housing scam. Interestingly as pointed out by the party leaders arrests comes a week before by-polls scheduled for October 14. The opposition has rallied to put up strong candidates, and the PML N is expected to make a significant attempt to win some crucial seats in the National as well as the Punjab Assembly. The dice now seems to be loaded against Mr Sharif’s Party.

Interestingly Shahbaz, the younger brother of deposed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was summoned to NAB’s Lahore office in connection with Saaf Pani company investigation but was arrested in Ashiana housing scandal.

The NAB seems to be justifying this on the plea that it anticipated that the former chief minister might not appear before the Bureau if summoned in Ashiana scandal. However, Shahbaz has already appeared before the NAB on many occasions in the past in this case. Thus the apprehensions appear to be unjustified.

The NAB, on the other hand, claims clinching evidence that is based on the key aides of the former Punjab Chief Minister who were made to have a face to face interaction with Shahbaz. They reportedly pinned him down for ordering the cancellation of the award of contract of Ashiana-i-Iqbal to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons and making it in favour of Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, which resulted in the loss of approximately Rs193 million.

Other charges include directing the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) to assign the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), resulting in the award of a contract to the Lahore Casa developers, causing the loss of Rs715m and the ultimate failure of the project.

NAB has also accused Shahbaz of directing the PLDC to award the consultancy services of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab (ECSP) for Rs 192m while the actual cost was supposed to be Rs35m as quoted by Nespak.

PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif condemned the arrest of his younger brother, saying it was “not just regrettable, but also ridiculous”. “Everyone knows that the PTI government is behind this worse kind of revenge,” he claimed, according to his party. Nawaz said the PTI government should remain prepared to face the same kind of treatment tomorrow “that they mete out to their opponents today”. “The government shouldn’t put the burden of its incompetence on Shahbaz Sharif,” the elder Sharif said. “Those whose conscience is clear do not fear the bars of a prison,” he said.

Nawaz also claimed that other corruption accused as Babar Awan, Aleem Khan and Zulfi Bukhari were not being questioned while the PML N leadership was targeted by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI)

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry who is the chief spokesperson of the PTI government has claimed that more arrests of prominent persons were likely. “This is the first arrest of few prominent arrests as major arrests are yet to be made,” he said.

The Sharifs who have held power in Punjab province for umpteen years can be cornered in a number of cases for corruption and indeed could be implicated as well, the issue is the timing of the arrest and the manner in which the same was done bespeaks of political vendetta and more instability in Pakistan in the days ahead.