Soon after the release of Rana Sanaullah Khan, the former Law Minister of Punjab, on bail in drug supply case, Mr. Shehryar Khan Afridi, the State Minister for Narcotics Control commented that “This is a season of bails” in Pakistan. Indeed the most high profile leadership of opposition parties who were in jail in various corruption cases have been released on bail and it is a shocking situation for the PTI government as it had got the mandate from the people of Pakistan to eradicate corruption from the country. However, since has failed to recover any significant looted money from these high profile cases so far it has put a lot of pressure on the government to justify its stance and efforts against eradication of corruption.
Earlier, on 9 Dec 2019, the NAB Chairman, Mr. Javed Iqbal also delivered an aggressive speech and told that now “Hawa ka rukh badalanay laga hai” (the air (of accountability) has changed its direction)) that alarmed the government that now it is there turn to be accountable for their deeds.
When the government of PTI came into power, it was the strongest government of all times in Pakistan even without simple majority in the Parliament. At that time, the civil and military establishment along with the judiciary were on the same page and there was significant harmony among all the four pillars of the state. The media was also reporting all the positivism of the government and all the opposition parties were in a state of paralysis. The leadership of PML (N) was in jail facing various corruption cases and it seemed they will soon surrender their illegally obtained assets to the government so as it could overcome the financial issues and fulfill the promises of eliminating poverty from the country. However, now that almost half and one year has elapsed and most of the high profile leaders have been released on bail, the comment from Mr. Shehryar Khan Afridi that “it is the season of bails” highlights the real situation going on in the Pakistani politics.
The PTI government was lucky to enjoy all the freedom to register cases against their opponents, use all the state organs to gather evidence against them and judiciary was also accepting the cases and in one such case Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was awarded 10 years of rigorous imprisonment by an accountability court alongside massive financial penalties on the charges of owning expensive residential properties in London. In another case, his daughter Maryam Nawaz was sentenced to 7 years jail term and two million pounds by the NAB on corruption charges in Avenfield reference case on On 6 July 2018.
However, on September 19, 2018, the Islamabad High Court suspended sentences of Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Capt Safdar. The court observation in this case was that the JIT head Wajid Zia did not present a chart on the known sources of income. Justice Athar in this case further observed,
“Should we announce a judgment based on criminal law on assumptions? This assumption that the property is occupied by the children but the ownership is Nawaz’s? Seemingly, the accountability court’s verdict was based on assumptions”
The case of Rana Sanaullah
When Rana Sanaullah, the former Law Minister of Punjab was arrested it was made very clear that the ANF (Anti Narcotics Force) seized 15 kilograms of heroin from Sanaullah’s vehicle and there were video evidence of this raid which the prosecutors will present in the court. However, the bail judgment again shows that the prosecution again failed to produce any concrete evidence and questioned why formal documentary proceedings of the seizure of narcotics were not conducted at the time of arrest. The bail order also stated:
“In the context of the petitioner being a vocal political leader of [the main] opposition party, this aspect of the case could not be ignored as political victimization in our country is an open secret”
The Case of Asif Ali Zardari
The former President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari is also released on medical bail. He was arrested on corruption charges on JUNE 10, 2019 by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Mr. Zardari was granted medical bail as he petitioned that he should be given bail till the completion of the trial against him. Interestingly, the NAB representative didn’t reply when the court asked if he had any objection to Zardari’s bail.
The bail of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was also accepted on the medical ground and he was allowed to go to London for further medical treatment. His younger brother, the former Chief Minister of Punjab, Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif is also released on bail in Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases. Maryam Nawaz has also been granted bail by the Lahore High Court and may soon go to see her father. Another leader of Pakistan Muslim League (N) Miftah Ismail, the former finance minister has been released on bail by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) corruption case.
So, what does suggest the arrests, court trials and bails of these high profile leaders of opposition parties? Is it the inability of investigation and prosecution of NAB and ANF? Is it the loopholes in our justice system that culprits take advantage of it and succeed to escape? Or is it the policy change of the establishment to set free the mainstream of the two major political parties and given them space in the politics? All this will be clear in the next few months as the JUI(F) leader Moulana Fazal-ur-Rehman has indicated.