Nawaz in Exile: Crime and punishment

Farhatullah Babar

Visualise the image of someone convicted by the courts in two cases and under investigation and trial in several others, suddenly allowed to leave the country in a special chartered plane along with some 25 close family members, a retinue of 6 maids and servants and a baggage of 101 suit cases containing God knows what. Recall for a moment that the Chief Executive who allowed this to happen had been bemoaning that the foreign countries were not cooperating with him in the extradition of fugitives and in the return of national wealth looted by them. Recall also the tall claims of across the board 'horizontal and vertical' accountability of all regardless of any national or international pressure. And then consider the official admission that on the intercession of a foreign friendly country Nawaz Sharif has been pardoned 'in larger national interest' and allowed to go with family and suitcases.
Juxtapose these images together and the picture, which emerges, is a picture of national shame and embarrassment. In its sweep and poignancy it ranks next only to the fall of Dhaka in December 1971. The first national shame was witnessed in the chilly month of December thirty years ago, the second also in the same chilly month. Then a military government was in place, so is now. The statement announcing the Dec 71 denouement sought to cover up national shame by telling people that the Indian troops had entered into Dhaka 'under an arrangement between local commanders' in the interest of peace and stability. The announcement about the shame of December 2000 said that Nawaz Sharif had been allowed 'in the larger national interest' on the intercession of a foreign country.
Until a few days ago the larger national interest was across the board horizontal and vertical accountability and not to bow before any pressure. Today it has changed. What were the compelling factors, which forced this change? And who were the wise who decided that the national interest had changed. Half a dozen corps commanders presumably.
Mr Nawaz Sharif was convicted and fined in two cases. One pertaining to his role in the hijacking of the aircraft and the other for non-declaration of a helicopter he had purchased, as required under the law. The helicopter case was initiated by the PPP and taken up with the Chief Election Commissioner but was turned down because the ordinance on declaration of assets had lapsed. Subsequently it was raised at other forums but nothing came out of it. There are more than six dozen complaints and cases of corruption, loan default, tax evasion, acquisition of prime lands illegally, concealment of assets held here and abroad, acquisition of property disproportionate to known and declared means of income, misuse of office to expand family business and misuse of authority. All these cases against Mr Nawaz Sharif and family were pending at different stages of inquiry, investigation and trial when the President chose to pardon Sharif.
To wipe the slate clean and also claim that doing so was in national interest is something, which only the custodians of national interest can explain.
At least one case pertaining to the November 1997 assault on the Supreme Court and forcing the honorable judges to flee to their chambers is still pending before the apex court. The Islamabad Police chief has yet to submit the report, as directed by the court, to determine the involvement of Nawaz Sharif. However, the Supreme Court was not even consulted when Sharif was exiled. Perhaps bothering the Supreme Court with such petty matters was not in the national interest.
When the original petitioner Shahid Orakzai brought it to the attention of the Supreme Court on Tuesday a learned judge observed that the court can summon Nawaz Sharif. In the larger national interest and also in the interest of the esteem for the judiciary we must believe in what the learned judge has said.
Never before, not even by Sharif and Saif, the accountability had been made so bizarre and stripped of credibility. In the small hours of 10th December Sharif family left for Jeddah by a Royal Saudi plane. A few hours later General Khalid Maqbool, the new czar of accountability, left for Seoul from the same airport, according to a press report quoting official NAB sources, for "investigating into kickbacks paid to Nawaz Sharif for the motorway project". Could there be a greater joke than this with accountability? The bizarre episode has been summed up as "the great betrayal". Betrayal it is indeed all around. The military government betrayed the tall promises it made to the people and undermined the credibility of ruling generals. Nawaz Sharif betrayed his own party and his people leaving them all behind rudderless, leaderless and clueless.
Nawaz claimed to have had a heavy mandate of the people. His followers called him Quaid-i-Azam Saani and he seemed to believe it. He adopted a roaring lion as the election symbol of his party and claimed to transform Pakistan into an Asian tiger. Energized by the chants "Nawaz Sharif qadam barhao ham tumhary saath hain" he would raise his hands, smile innocently and vow to die for democracy and democratic rights of the people. It is a sad thought that when the hour of reckoning came the Quaid-i-Azam Sani chose to go into exile. Sadder still that our Ataturk agreed to it claiming it to be in national interest.
Who says crime and punishment are functions of law and justice in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? For the rulers crime and punishment have always been a function of clout, wealth, connections and political expediency. For those at the receiving end however crime and punishment are different things altogether. Just consider this. Former Petroleum Minister Anwer Saifullah Khan is punished with jail, fine and disqualification because he was found guilty of the crime of recruiting 27 young people in violation of the rules. But since he is at the receiving end he must be punished. On the other hand the Frontier Health Minister, on the day Saifullah was convicted, publicly admitted that she has regularized 1359 employees recruited in the Health Department in violation of the rules by the previous government. The graceful lady Health minister is at the delivering end and must be applauded. For such is the law of crime and punishment.

th minister is at the delivering end and must be applauded. For such is the law of crime and punishment.