Relief and mobilisation
The Supreme Court (SC) on March 26, 2019 has granted six weeks bail to Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds, thereby overturning the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC’s) rejection of it, and the Lahore High Court (LHC) has ordered the removal of Shahbaz Sharif’s name from the Exit Control List (ECL). This double relief to the Sharif brothers has evoked a sigh of relief from their family and bouts of joy amongst their party cadres. The SC examined Nawaz Sharif’s medical records and the recommendations of five medical boards that had examined him since his imprisonment, all of which pointed to his health complications regarding heart, kidneys, diabetes and blood pressure. They unanimously recommended certain procedures that required proper medical facilities to the satisfaction of the patient. Despite being shunted around various hospitals for weeks, Nawaz Sharif had finally refused this medical merry-go-round. The government in this period had been unsympathetic to the prisoner’s plight and continued to taunt him with the mantra of ‘No NRO’ and ‘Do you want to be treated abroad?’. The SC having examined the expert medical opinion and found it concurring on Nawaz Sharif’s required treatment, allowed six weeks bail (two short of what Nawaz Sharif’s lawyers had requested) with the provisos that he could not travel out of the country, would have to surrender to custody at the end of the period, and could apply for an extension of his bail period to the IHC if further treatment was required. If during the six weeks period the IHC decided Nawaz Sharif’s appeal against his conviction and imprisonment by an accountability court, the order of the IHC would hold the field. As a consequence of the SC order, Nawaz Sharif has returned home from Kot Lakhpat Jail and started his treatment. Meanwhile the LHC found no merit in the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) justifications for putting Shahbaz Sharif’s name on the ECL after he had been granted bail in two references against him. The court was satisfied that the track record of Shahbaz Sharif showed he had cooperated with NAB in all the cases pressed against him. Meanwhile Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has embarked on his train march from Karachi to Larkana as preparation for the upcoming April 4 death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Along the way, at scheduled and some unscheduled stops, Bilawal has been addressing teeming crowds of supporters in an aggressive tone towards the government as part of what appears to be a mass mobilisation against the perceived victimisation of the opposition through NAB, etc. Although the train march, dubbed 'Caravan-i-Bhutto', evokes memories of the memorable train marches of the past, especially those mounted by Bilawal's grandfather, they can only justify such a comparison if the wider public, not just PPP jiyalas (committed workers), join in.
The SC castigated NAB during the proceedings of Nawaz Sharif’s case for inflicting immense stress on those it charges, which is leading people like Brigadier Asad Munir (retd) to commit suicide. The fact is that NAB, under the military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, has no restrictions on charging or arresting anyone suspected of being guilty of corruption. Not only that, the NAO turns the time honoured judicial principle of ‘innocent until proved guilty’ on its head to ‘guilty until you prove yourself innocent’. Not only do these appear in practice a heavy-handed, draconian, unjust set of provisions, it has led to tragedies like that of Asad Munir. As far as the ECL is concerned, it functions under a non-transparent, arbitrary, open to partisan abuse regime. It is ironic that the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are both suffering in opposition because they failed during their successive tenures from 2008 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018 respectively to repeal, undo or modify provisions like Articles 62 and 63, inserted by military dictator Ziaul Haq, or the NAO promulgated by Pervez Musharraf, or the ECL regime that is difficult to make head or tail of. They are therefore being hoist on their own petard of neglect or bowing to religious and other lobbies in expedient fashion. The superior courts’ two verdicts discussed above stand on merit, therefore there is no need to indulge in the conspiracy theory doing the rounds that they represent the tip of an iceberg of some ‘deal’.