The imminent return of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam from London to Pakistan, after the former was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by a national accountability court, has thrown up questions for the Pakistan political-military establishment. On July 10, in an article in The Express Tribune, Hassan Niazi, a Lahore-based lawyer and teacher, questions the very basis of Sharif’s trial and conviction. “While we may strongly believe that Nawaz Sharif is guilty,” argues Niazi, “we must demand that the judgment convicting him abide by the highest standards of fairness and objectivity. Unfortunately, the judgment of the accountability court fails to do so.” The former Pakistan PM was convicted of corruption “not directly”, since no definitive proof of disproportionate assets was uncovered, but via the “indirect method”. “Of course it is difficult to prove corruption,” asserts Niazi, “but that doesn’t mean we start lowering our standards to those of a roving lynch mob.”
The return of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam and their likely arrest is also a moment of crisis for the rule of law. According to Dawn’s July 13 editorial, it is incumbent upon constitutional bodies and those holding various offices to act in accordance with the highest legal and moral standards. While the editorial welcomes Sharif’s call for calm to PML-N supporters, it cautions the caretaker Punjab government: “The PML-N has alleged that an undeclared crackdown by the caretaker Punjab government is already underway against its leaders and supporters, and that measures will be taken to prevent the party from marching or gathering in Lahore today. It is not clear to what extent the PML-N’s allegations are accurate, but there do appear to be ill-advised and unacceptable attempts by authorities in Punjab to curb the PML-N’s political activities ahead of Mr Sharif’s return.”
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, in an opinion article in Dawn, cautions Imran Khan who seems to be acting the part of PM-in-waiting. “The prime minister-in-waiting certainly seems confident — tens of thousands of banners with the slogan ‘Ab Sirf Imran Khan’ have been put up all over the country. By all accounts, Imran has been dealt many fortunate hands of late, even while his competitors suffer one grim setback after another,” writes Akhtar. In the chequered democratic history of Pakistan, argues Akhtar, prime ministers have invariably gone from being favourites to targets: “This is a country in which virtually every single prime minister — directly elected or not — has fallen foul of the powers that be. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, Z.A. Bhutto, his daughter Benazir and Nawaz Sharif are the most prominent names on the list. Even Muhammad Khan Junejo found a way to get into Gen Zia’s bad books.” In this “bleak picture”, the author does find a “silver lining”. Perhaps, at the brink, the “egalitarian and democratic instincts” of the “long-suffering people of Pakistan” will be awakened.
The editorial in The Daily Star on July 13 welcomes UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s “frank admission” of the failure of the international community over the Rohingya crisis. The arguments in the editorial echo, in some measure, Guterres’s article in The Washington Post where he expressed disappointment at the lack of global will to address a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions. The tone of the editorial also hints at the chagrin among some quarters in Bangladesh over the country having to bear much of the burden of Burma’s persecuted Muslim community taking refuge in its neighbour: “We appreciate the important role that the UN has been playing since the onset of the crisis including efforts to raise global awareness about the plight of these refugees and address the humanitarian crisis. However, neither the ‘expression of solidarity’ nor a USD 1 billion humanitarian assistance fund is enough; the Rohingya people need concrete efforts from the international community and the UN for justice and for the return with a genuine guarantee of ‘full rights’.”
Big brother India
On July 3, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held a meeting with top diplomats from neighbouring countries. The minister reportedly said that India should not focus on competing with China in terms of resources, but rather focus on “its own work” and ties with neighbours on its own terms. While Malinda Seneviratne, a political commentator in Sri Lanka takes no issue with this thought, he does attack New Delhi for what he perceives as its over-bearing attitude in his column in The Daily Mirror (July 12). Swaraj, it seems, said that India must “educate friends in the neighbourhood about how a certain kind of engagement with Beijing can have negative consequences for them” and she also implied that “Sri Lanka’s debt trap” with China is a cause for concern. This, Seneviratne believes, is symptomatic of Delhi’s “condescension” towards its neighbours. He argues that Colombo turned to Beijing for its economic might in an act of self-interest, the cornerstone of diplomacy for all countries,