LAHORE: The arrest of Shahbaz Sharif, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the Rs. 14 billion ($113,970) Ashiana Housing scam may hamper the party’s prospects in the by-elections slated for Oct. 14, analysts have said.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, the by-elections will be held in 37 seats in total with 11 slots for the National Assembly and 26 Provincial Assembly seats, including 13 in Punjab, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two each in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Opposition parties in many instances are mulling a joint candidate to grab the contested slots.
Sharif’s arrest by the National Accountability Bureau, and the subsequent grant of a 10-day physical remand by the Accountability Court, took social media by storm on Saturday. Many independent observers linked the developments with PML-N leader Rana Mashhood’s recent controversial statement vis-à-vis brokerage of a deal between the PML-N leadership and the country’s security establishment to give a green light to Sharif and his party as the replacement for a current political dispensation in the Center and Punjab.
“The statement of Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan, a PML-N leader and a former minister in Punjab, has much to do with PML-N’s current woes,” said Matiullah Jan, a veteran journalist based in Islamabad.
However, Mashood’s statement was dismissed as “irresponsible” by the military spokesperson in a tweet.
“Singling out PML-N’s top leadership for political victimization may not just endanger the government’s own stability but may well wrap the system up,” said Azma Bokhari, PML-N’s vocal leader and a member in the Punjab Assembly.
Bokhari alleged that Sharif’s arrest was an attempt to mute him ahead of the by-polls to favor the “frail incumbent government sitting in the center and Punjab” just as former prime minister and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, were silenced before the July 25 general elections to hand over the reigns to a “puppet set-up.”
IA Rehman, a veteran rights activist and Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, however, said that in high-temperature politics, such an action does have political overtones where objectivity is compromised and subjectivity takes precedence.
Abdullah Malik, a lawyer in Lahore High Court and civil society activist, said that NAB must immediately present concrete evidence in the accountability court against Shahbaz Sharif. “Any delay will put a question mark on the dispensation of justice and point toward political victimization. Mian Shahbaz Sharif must be given the right of a fair trial under Article 10-A of the constitution,” he said.
Punjab’s Information Minister, Fayyaz Ul Hasan Chohan, rejected any element of political victimization, saying NAB has initiated the action as an independent institution. “It won’t cast any damage to PTI’s image nor have any impact on the by-elections,” he observed, saying that the PML-N had already failed to emerge as a strong political party in KPK, Sindh, and Balochistan, and was restricted to two divisions in Punjab during general elections held this year.
The opposition parties believed that selective justice is the greatest travesty of justice as former President Pervez Musharraf was not being tried in case of twice abrogating the constitution. Similarly, the law is not taking its due course in cases of Banigala residence and the illegal use of helicopter involving Prime Minister Imran Khan. It doesn’t reflect well on PTI’s campaign trail slogan of “Single Pakistan Not Two”, meaning equal justice for all.