The conviction and ten years of imprisonment have most probably wiped out former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s extensive and unusually glorious career in politics.
But his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, who has yet to take part in any election and become a member of any assembly – has been disqualified and can’t take part in the coming election due to her conviction.
Ironically, the family is cleared of the corruption charge and convicted for not cooperating with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
NAB is “an autonomous and constitutionally established federal institution responsible to build efforts against corruption.” Basically, it serves to hound politicians whenever the need arises.
The Court Case
The Avenfield reference was filed by NAB on the orders of the Supreme Court in July last year, in the verdict of Panamagate, that removed the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from his chair. The four flats in the Avenfield House, Park Lane, London, are a part of the three cases filed by NAB against Nawaz Sharif and his children. Section 9 (a)(v), declares “pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income, which he cannot [reasonably] account for [or maintains a standard of living beyond that which is commensurate with his sources of income.]”
Sharif’s counsel wanted to delay the verdict by seven days but the plea was rejected. Maryam Nawaz was sentenced to seven years in prison for abetment, and one extra year for not cooperating during the investigation.
The two sons of Nawaz Sharif – Hassan and Hussain Nawaz – were also accused in the Avenfield property case, and have also been declared guilty. All of them have been given a time period to surrender and will eventually face arrests. Interpol warrants can be issued to bring them back to Pakistan. The verdict is from an Accountability Court and will be challenged in the higher courts.
However, the decision seems motivated by the establishment – an attempt to defeat the Pakistan Muslim League’s leadership in the courts and make them ineligible for the polls.
This is precisely the kind of anti-corruption drive that hounded Pakistan People’s Party’s leadership since the 1990s and unfortunately, Mian Nawaz Sharif played a key role in that political persecution.
All Eyes on Maryam Nawaz
Maryam tweeted: “This is a very small punishment for firmly standing in front of unseen forces. The moral to fight against oppression has increased today.”
So far Maryam has garnered negative media attention and polarised the PML(N). She is often seen as the root of all trouble, coaxing her father into giving anti-establishment statements that eventually land him in deep trouble. She is also under constant fire for her elitist dressing sense and arrogant disposition – which she has not bothered to diffuse as yet. She is hardly a people’s person that a populist political leader needs to be.
However, today she is about to face her greatest political battle – to return or not to return.
And this is an opportunity to come out of her father’s shadow, who, because of his lengthy conviction and old age, cannot be the political force to reckon with that he was in the past.
If Maryam Nawaz returns and surrenders, it will be seen in solidarity with her beleaguered political workers – the most powerful and brave political statement she will ever issue.
The party workers, who are increasingly frustrated with their party leader’s unfair treatment in the courts – now need someone to replace Nawaz on the ground. Nawaz’s brother, Shehbaz Sharif is seen as a governance guru and not a charismatic leader of the masses. Hence, there is a void that Maryam can fill.
Maryam Should Take a Cue from Benazir Bhutto
Maryam’s presence in Pakistan (and maybe behind bars) can help the PML(N) fair better in the coming elections. However, the higher courts can expedite the process, and the treatment she faces in jail might be harsher than usual. There is no way of predicting how these court cases and prison sentences will pan out. But if she does return to Pakistan on her own and willingly fulfills her legal commitments, Maryam will be seen as a courageous leader who is with the party workers on the ground in this time of need.
One must remember, that during the period that followed the quo of 1999, it was Maryam’s mother, Kulsoom Nawaz, who mobilized the political workers and led the protests.
Maryam was never perceived as a political leader within her party. This is very different from a young Benazir Bhutto’s presence in the People’s Party. Bhutto was a part of the protests in the 1970’s, who went to jails and gave passionate speeches. She also escorted her father to political gatherings, meetings and an international trip like the one to Shimla in 1972, where the Shimla Pact was signed. Bhutto was, of course, Oxford and Harvard-educated, famously the President of the Oxford Union, and followed by international media abroad.
When Benazir returned to Pakistan in 1986, there was little doubt in the public eye as to who should lead the PPP.
However, Maryam Nawaz was in the backseat until after 2010, when the PML-N leadership finally decided the party’s inheritance. Nawaz and company probably hoped one of the two sons would do so but they seemed more interested in the family business.
Let’s hope Maryam Nawaz emerges as a brave leader in this time of adversity, as Benazir Bhutto did in the 1980s, and takes her party forward. This will be the first time a Punjabi woman populist leader will emerge, the first time for PML-N to be led by a woman, and the first time Maryam Nawaz will be seen as taking a political position in this country. Other than the imminent dangers, this seems like a win-win situation for Pakistan.