The verdict – ten, seven and one

After five postponements it was 4:20pm on 6th July 2018 that one of the more momentous legal verdicts of modern political times in Pakistan was announced. Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment and Maryam Nawaz to seven years, with an additional year for forging a document. Captain (retd) Safdar, husband of Maryam, was sentenced to a year. Additionally, there are substantial fines, eight million GB pounds for Sharif and two million for Maryam. Both Sharif and Maryam are in London – and living in the Avenfield apartments that were the subject of the case – and the whereabouts of Capt (retd) Safdar are unknown. He was not present in court.

Detailed analysis will follow but in the immediate term it is clear that the verdict is a body blow not just to the Sharif family but to the political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which has now seen its leader consigned to the political wilderness for the foreseeable future, and possibly now in exile as his return, as is Maryam’s, has to be in doubt. There will be jubilation in other political parties and the fragmentation of the PML-N is a possibility in parts of the country, which others will be swift to exploit. Shehbaz Sharif has termed the verdict unjust and he is now the last of the Sharif big beasts left on the field, an exposed position in these febrile political days. It is perhaps significant that The Economist magazine within minutes of the verdict was predicting Shehbaz as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, and although it is likely that the PML-N will lose seats it is unlikely that it is going to be usurped. Weakened perhaps but not fatally.

The wild cards and possible benefactors of the verdict could be the slew of extremist and sectarian religious parties that are rapidly mainstreaming with official encouragement. They are not about to gain power, but they are shifting the body politic even further to the right and eroding the politics of conservative moderation as exemplified by the PML-N.

Historians may note that Sharif finds himself thus hoist as the result of a technicality, an unreported source of income uncovered by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the UAE that the Sharif lawyers were unable to deny which proved to be the lever that saw him ousted. The political snowball gathered mass and momentum from there until one of the great political families finds itself floundering, mired in criminal convictions and doubtless engaged in related litigation for years to come. Dynasties tend to be poor when it comes to succession planning and the PML-N is no exception. Shehbaz is the only member of the family with the competence to govern on a larger scale than a single province. He will be leading a badly shaken party and a country where political certainties are suddenly far less – certain. Something happened on July 6th. Exactly what remains to be seen.


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