Nawaz camp still in denial as ‘stopgap’ PM tries to steady ship

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is Pakistan's new prime minister. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood

As the newly elected leader of Pakistan’s National Assembly, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, was delivering his maiden speech in parliament on Tuesday, members of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) were to be seen holding portraits of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Even the desk from which Abbasi spoke was plastered with a large portrait of Nawaz, the man who disqualified from office last week by the country’s Supreme Court on charges of “hiding assets under oath.”

Setting the tone for friction between the judiciary and parliament in the coming days, Abbasi dismissed the corruption allegations against Sharif. “No-one is willing to accept it,” he asserted emphatically, adding that the people of Pakistan and legal experts were “surprised” by the decision of the apex court.

The ruling PML (N) has put up Abbasi, a former minister in the Nawaz cabinet, as a “stopgap” prime minister.

It was originally intended that he would be replaced by Mian Shahbaz Sharif, a younger brother of Nawaz and the current chief minister of Punjab, once he “inherits” Nawaz’s National Assembly seat.

However, Punjab’s law minister, Rana Sanaullah – who is considered to be the most influential member of that province’s cabinet – put a spanner in the works on Monday when he pleaded at a party meeting in Murree that “the focus of the party will divert from its development agenda to the electoral game for the rest of the present term [if Shahbaz is] elevated to the office of prime minister.”

Observers do not believe Shahbaz will risk losing his Punjab stronghold for a transient post that may come to an end next year when national elections are held. More crucially, he has also been named in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills money laundering case – a case which the Supreme Court reopened, along with other allegations against the Nawaz family and former finance minister, Ishaq Dar, when it delivered its verdict last month on a probe into revelations contained in the Panama Papers.

Observers do not believe Shahbaz will risk losing his Punjab stronghold for a transient post that may come to an end next year when national elections are held

The coming months are crucial for the Sharif family. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), under instructions from the Supreme Court, is to file references against them within six weeks, and its “accountability courts” have been asked to adhere to a timeframe of six months to complete the whole exercise. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court Chief Justice nominated Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan as “monitoring judge” to supervise the implementation of the apex court’s judgment in letter and spirit.

The NAB will file references against Nawaz, Maryam (his daughter), Hussain and Hasan (his sons), and Capt (retd) Safdar (a son-in-law) relating to various assets that are disproportionate to explained sources of income. A separate reference is being filed against Dar. The NAB will also investigate Nawaz’s friend, Sheikh Saeed; Musa Ghani, a nephew of Dar’s wife; Kashif Masood Qazi, the son of a retired officer from the London Stock Exchange; Javaid Kiyani, the former chairman of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association; and Saeed Ahmed, president of the National Bank of Pakistan. The NAB has been directed by the Supreme Court to consider material already collected during the course of investigations conducted by its own Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

The Sharif family and PML (N) continue to protest Nawaz’s disqualification, pointing to the fact that the Supreme Court has not made any corruption or kickback charges. The family will file a review petition in the Supreme Court next week to challenge the court’s ruling on the grounds that Nawaz did not violate the law by not declaring “receivable assets” paid to him by Capital FZE – a United Arab Emirates-based company of which he was the chairman – because he never touched any of the money. The five-member bench unanimously decided his failure to declare this money meant he had been neither “honest” nor “truthful” as required under the country’s Constitution.

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