What are the options for the Sharifs?

(By Iftikhar Ahmad) Sharif’s options

Currently two ‘principled politicians’ are languishing in Adiala Jail, while the rest are busy engaging in classic and traditional electioneering

Every inmate of a prison has only two options after he is convicted — walk free after the success of his appeal or endure the full term of his sentence. Jail is tough; I know it full well. I was a Prisoner of War first, then a court martialled Adiala Jail inmate. I have been a unique type of prisoner, jailed by both India and Pakistan! The surrendering of one’s liberty is punishment in the truest sense of the word — no matter what the romanticism of revolutionary principles and righteousness of politics say. There was only one Nelson Mandela; the rest languish in the C-class cells of history.

Lest we forget, Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to five years in the Non-declaration of Assets case before flying off to Jeddah. He had concealed from the records a Russian helicopter that he’d bought for the previous elections. Despite sound advice from his legal team, he refused to appeal the court’s decision and after thirty days the sentence acquired permanence. Subsequently, Sharif’s premature return to Pakistan was made possible due to the inability of General Musharraf to decline the request made by his friend King Abdullah, after Benazir Bhutto rode straight back to Pakistan on the high horse of the NRO. Nawaz’s five year sentence was to take him to Adiala Jail straight from the airport, just as it was on Friday the 13th, but for the Saudi factor. Sharif’s luck continued beyond this with an ever-attentive Supreme Court — headed by Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — ready to grant him the ultimate relief of acquittal through an extraordinary judgment that included breaking the permanence of his original sentence.

A decade has passed and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. This time destiny seems to have trapped Sharif between the devil and the deep blue sea. He was damned if he returned from London and damned if he didn’t.

In a run-of-the-mill criminal matter, the first appeal from the trial court may stand a chance of acceptance if there was no case to answer or the prosecution case was full of substantive flaws, and culpability had not been established beyond reasonable doubt. Furthermore, if the case of the defence had not been given due weight, it may give rise to an appeal.

This particular case started in the Supreme Court (SC), (albeit in the constitutional jurisdiction) and the judgment gave birth to specific references — instead of orders for inquiry — as five judges of the SC had heard all the evidence from both parties (though not in the classic sense). Hearing evidence in a trial court is different. Now, the Accountability court was to conduct a case under the supervision of a judge of the same bench that authored the Panama judgment. Any appeal from here to the High Court (HC) and then to the same SC — let’s just say, it’s a rather tough call for the convicted.

A decade has passed and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. This time destiny seems to have trapped Sharif between the devil and the deep blue sea. He was damned if he returned from London and damned if he didn’t

Nawaz Sharif and his daughter had gone to London to attend to the gravely ill Kulsoom Nawaz, when their sentences were announced. The peculiarity of the NAB Ordinance provided a window of appeal of only ten days, forcing the Sharifs to make the decision of their lives —return within ten days to file an appeal or seek political asylum in the UK. Pulling Maryam into the deep end of post-Panama politics has only exacerbated Nawaz’s woes. Both father and daughter are carrying different sets of political disqualifications, requiring different solutions. In any event, seeking political asylum, though nothing alien to various foreign leaders, would have inevitably plunged the Sharifs into political oblivion, all in the name of personal freedom and comfort. A hope to stay alive in the political fray despite incarceration represents a worthy political strategy but when one weighs the harsh reality of conviction on charges of moral turpitude — it does taint the positive picture for the Sharifs.

The second option of living ten years and seven years under classic jail conditions is no easy feat for those used to the opulence of the billionaire club. Technically, when Nawaz Sharif comes out after a full term he’ll be seventy-eight years of age. He will remain disqualified from contesting elections and perhaps unable to engage in politics forever. Maryam won’t fare any better either, since she will be 53 when she comes out of prison. This is where the masters of this game we call politics can get going. Talk. Meet. Make deals. A route out of Adiala Jail for the Sharifs, barring a miraculous acquittal on appeal or a Presidential pardon (which President will this be?) can only materialise over the next ten days, if the political gamble pays off and the election tide turns in his party’s favour. Seeing the odds and the insufficiency of the loyalist reaction to Sharif’s return and arrest, electoral success and possibility of a Presidential pardon seem remote.

Regrettably, Nawaz Sharif’s reincarnation as a “principled” politician with his self-created “cause” never matured enough to permeate his actual party. Currently two ‘principled politicians’ are languishing in Adiala Jail, while the rest are busy engaging in classic and traditional electioneering.

Under our constitution, Presidential powers to pardon someone can only work in the way that would suit Nawaz and Maryam if the PML-N wins the election. That too, by a majority which would allow them to install their own President after Mamnoon Hussain. Alas, this doesn’t seem possible at the moment.

So, what then? A pardon secured through the ranks of an enemy — though a bitter proposition — seems to be the only viable option for Nawaz Sharif. Interestingly, our political history has borne witness to such acts in the past; with no eyebrows having been raised. One is reminded of Othello’s ago who said “How am I evil, to advise Cassio to do exactly what’ll do him good?”

Ultimately it is a similar character, a brother called Shahbaz, who could ensure that Nawaz and Maryam walk free before the end of this tumultuous year.

The writer is a Barrister, former Senator and practising lawyer

dailytimes.com.pk