Mian Nawaz Sharif was elected prime minister in 2013 by the people of Pakistan, but the decision of the masses was not acceptable to a few powerful individuals in the topmost echelons of power. They planned to remove an elected representative of the people by orchestrating a long march and later judicial victimisation. They thought that by bringing a cricket star, who by his oratorical skills promised ‘Naya Pakistan,’ they would change the fate of the country but the results proved otherwise. He messed with everything and Pakistan was brought to the verge of default.
It is not only Nawaz Sharif, but the entire nation that has paid the price for this political venture by the characters who stand exposed after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) decisions in the references brought against Nawaz Sharif and his family members. The last decision was announced by the IHC on 11 December 2023, acquitting him in the third reference of Al-Azizia Steel Mills after the Avenfield Properties reference earlier on 29 November 2023. National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has also withdrawn its appeal in IHC against his acquittal in the Flagship Investments reference.
The story of de-tracking the country begins with the long march started by Imran Khan on 14 August 2014 against the so-called rigged elections, the results of which were neither expected by him nor by his collaborators. The election rigging saga turned into a corruption scandal when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) named Nawaz Sharif as one of the owners of offshore companies in Panama Papers. Imran Khan on the advice of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa approached the Supreme Court and filed a petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court immediately constituted a bench, ignoring the fact that ICIJ had withdrawn the name of Mian Nawaz Sharif in April 2016, clarifying that his name was mistakenly displayed as the original papers did not contain his name. The bench constituted a six members joint investigation team (JIT) who were nominated by the registrar of the Supreme Court against an order passed by the Supreme Court. When their nomination was challenged, they were called ‘six diamonds’ by the Supreme Court itself. Finally, in July 2017, the elected prime minister was removed from office, not on Panama Papers allegations but for not taking a salary from his son – a decision that will always be considered a blot on the name of Pakistan’s judiciary.
The Supreme Court, after removing Mian Nawaz Sharif from office, asked NAB to file references against him and his family members Maryam Nawaz, Hassan Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz, Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar, and his finance minister, Ishaq Dar. In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court nominated Justice Ijazul Ahsan as the monitoring judge to supervise and monitor the proceedings conducted by NAB and the accountability courts on the reports submitted by the JIT.
The references filed against Nawaz Sharif and his family had no legal standing from day one as NAB solely relied on reports submitted by JIT in the Supreme Court.
Three references related to the Avenfield properties, Al-Azizia Steel Mills, and Flagship Investments were filed against the Sharif family. The government and the courts maintained a biased and objectionable attitude during the court proceedings. Mian Nawaz Sharif and his family stood firm, maintaining their commitment to contest politically motivated cases on their merits, as he had declared after his removal. The accountability court had reserved the judgments as Nawaz Sharif had gone abroad to see his ailing wife, Kulsoom Nawaz. However, upon his announcement to return to Pakistan on July 13, 2018, the accountability court promptly delivered its verdict, sentencing him to 10 years in jail along with a fine. His daughter Maryam Nawaz was given seven years in prison for abetment and concealing the properties of her father, and his son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar one year for not cooperating with NAB.
It was presumed that Mian Nawaz Sharif would not return after the announcement of the verdict. Still, he landed in Lahore on 13 July with his daughter and submitted himself for arrest, a few days before the general elections of 2018. Later, in December he was convicted in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference.
The sole purpose of these convictions was to block Nawaz Sharif from contesting the election to pave the way for a favoured politician to ascend to power. The experiment went wrong when the cricket star-turned-politician, lacking experience in governance, started running the affairs of the state on the pattern of the cricket ground. Much credit goes to Shehbaz Sharif for bringing the country back on the right track and saving us from this dismal situation, after sending the blue-eyed boy home through a vote of no confidence in April 2022 and revitalising the dying economy.
The references filed against Nawaz Sharif and his family had no legal standing from day one as NAB solely relied on reports submitted by JIT in the Supreme Court. The leaked interview of Arshad Malik, the late accountability court judge, also proved how he was forced to decide against Nawaz Sharif and his family in NAB references. The IHC acquitted Maryam Nawaz and Capt (retd) Safdar in the Avenfield reference in 2022. The same court acquitted Nawaz Sharif on 29 November 2023, more than five years after his conviction. This followed Maryam Nawaz’s acquittal, whose verdict stated that NAB had failed to produce any evidence to substantiate the claims that the London properties were owned by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and that Maryam Nawaz abetted in acquiring, owning, and concealing these properties. The IHC also considered the statement of JIT head Wajid Zia in which he candidly admitted that there was no direct evidence of Nawaz Sharif’s ownership, possession, or title of registry of the properties in his name.
It is not only Nawaz Sharif, but the entire nation that has paid the price for this political venture by the characters who stand exposed after the Islamabad High Court decisions in the references brought against Nawaz Sharif and his family members.
Earlier, Mian Nawaz Sharif was acquitted in the Flagship Investment reference by NAB in the year 2018 and the only case left against him was the Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment. On the instructions of Mian Nawaz Sharif, his legal team withdrew the application for further investigation into the conduct of Arshad Malik and his confession of being coerced into delivering a guilty verdict in this case. This decision was made following the former judge’s passing. Nawaz Sharif wanted the case to be decided on merit as he had forgiven the judge and had left everything to Allah.
During the appeal proceedings, the NAB counsels insisted on remanding the reference back to the trial court to have a decision on merit as former accountability judge Arshad Malik had been removed from service for misconduct. However, the division bench of the IHC did not agree with the NAB prosecutors and chose to decide the case on merit after seeing the evidence. IHC judges asked the NAB prosecutors what evidence they had gathered but, to the utter astonishment of the bench, they said that they only relied on the JIT report and documents.
The court wondered why they did not investigate independently before filing the references. The court questioned the mandate of the Supreme Court to interfere in the affairs of an independent organisation without any lawful authority. The prosecution could not satisfy the court when it was asked why they relied on photocopies instead of original documents and whether they confronted the writers of the documents to prove the veracity of the documents as required by the law of evidence. The prosecution did not question the members of the JIT about the source of their information but made it part of their investigation. The court noted that the conviction appeared to rely on presumptions without any supporting evidence.
The IHC verdict has undoubtedly spared the judiciary from acquiring another blemish on its reputation, ultimately exonerating Nawaz Sharif from all baseless charges. One must appreciate Mian Nawaz Sharif and his family members’ resilience and commitment to fight back against all corruption charges.
This decision has also exposed the characters who colluded to oust an elected prime minister through a judicial coup. The decision also raises questions about the ability of the monitoring judge and the role of the Supreme Court as it had no authority or power to appoint him. The Supreme Court, being the highest court of justice, must reconsider its limits and must learn to work within its ambit to avoid embarrassing itself by becoming party to a political campaign against an elected government in future. All the characters who played with the fate of the country must be held accountable for their actions.
The nation is optimistic that with a clean slate, Mian Nawaz Sharif will secure a significant majority in the upcoming elections. This sentiment is echoed by political analysts, who point to the monumental reception given by the people of Pakistan on October 21, 2023. There is hope and a resolute belief that Nawaz Sharif will pave the way for a brighter future for Pakistan.
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court.