It was never meant to end the way it did. What Lahore witnessed on August 11 in front of the NAB office was total anarchy.
It was supposed to be a simple routine affair. Maryam Nawaz Sharif has been called to the NAB offices and accountability courts many times in the last two years. Each time she appeared, workers had gathered as one would expect at such occasions. In fact, since August 2018, several PML-N leaders have been appearing in NAB offices and various courts. Each of them appeared multiple times. Never once did we see any mishap or trouble. Despite the high tension among the workers,which is natural, and the pathetic arrangements by the Punjab government and the police, there has never been any trouble. The PML-N leadership has always advised workers to show utmost restraint.
So what was different this time that it ended up with the police resorting to violence without being provoked? The police first sprayed pepper water, followed by teargas shelling, baton charge – and finally ended with throwing stones not just at the crowd but directly at the vehicle in which Maryam Nawaz was sitting. Surely there was nothing directed towards the police from her vehicle. Then why did this happen?
I am witness to the entire episode. Workers started to gather around 9 in the morning. The entire media was present there. Between 9 and 12.30, there was complete calm and peace. The trouble started as soon as Maryam’s vehicle approached the NAB office. The police decided not to let party workers get near her vehicle. The workers never tried to enter the NAB office; as such the police action was unwarranted.
Who decided to let the police go after the party workers? Whichever way one looks, it was a poor decision that only ended up with the government looking nervous, fragile and weak. The PML-N workers suffered injuries and several dozen were arrested. Cases were registered against PML-N workers and leaders by the police even though no crime was committed.
Politically, it was a huge setback for the PTI government which again showed how much they fear Maryam Nawaz. For months, she was silent but even her silence was disturbing for the ruling party. The decision to call Maryam to NAB was poor, especially considering there was no merit in the case. The notice to her was leaked to the media, ostensibly to start some sort of campaign against her. This also backfired since it allowed time to workers to plan their attendance at the NAB office.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif is a bold and courageous leader. In the last three years, she has consistently shown remarkable courage in the face of extreme odds. She has faced everything thrown at her – malicious media campaigns, JITs, courts, NAB cases and prison terms. Not easy for anyone to take all of this and that too for any woman. She returned to Pakistan with her father in July 2018 to go to prison, leaving her ailing mother back in London (who died in early September that year).
In mid-2019, while Mian Nawaz Sharif was in jail, she started active politics by reaching out to the people. She went to several cities and towns in Punjab – Faisalabad, Sargodha, Pakpattan, Okara, and others. Leaving Lahore around midday, she would reach her destination around 2 or 3 or even 4 in the morning. The numbers were significant but more important was the passion and the love that people showed wherever she went. So sure enough, in early August 2019, she was arrested – and that too while she was visiting her father in jail.
Arrested on a flimsy charge, she was in jail for more than two months; it has been a year since then and there has been no investigation and no reference. There wouldn’t be one. The decision to arrest was taken as a result of the success of her mass contact campaign.
The fiasco in Lahore on August 11 once again reminds us of the one-sided accountability process against the opposition. The superior judiciary through its judgments and observations has repeatedly called for an impartial accountability process. However, NAB continues to be indifferent, and continues to target the main opposition politicians even after failing miserably in the last two years.
After the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Saad Rafique case, we all expected a more refined approach from NAB and the government. But this particular notice and others coming soon after that judgment suggest there is no learning on the part of NAB and the government. Perhaps they have not even read or understood the implications of the judgement. More than NAB, it is for the government to inject some credibility. However, knowing the present leadership, we do not expect any improvement. If at all, it could get even worse as NAB fails to get any convictions. The present government will be solely held responsible for the damage caused to the accountability process during its time in power.
The writer is former governor Sindh and former minister for privatisation