Sunday, August 26, 2007

Choices for Sharifs

Editorial: Significance of SC judgement in Nawaz Sharif case
Daily Times, August 24, 2007

The Supreme Court has decided that Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif are free to return to Pakistan without let or hindrance. The judgement clearly did not give credibility to the “agreement” presented by the government in which the Sharifs undertook to stay away from Pakistan for ten years and not take part in politics. Mr Sharif says there was no agreement with the government of Pakistan but admits there was an “understanding” with the Saudi Arabian government. However, Mr Sharif refuses to disclose the details of the prosecution of this understanding between his family and Saudi Arabia “because not everything is to be disclosed in the national interest”. The text of the “Harmless Agreement” binds him to secrecy, a condition apparently also accepted by the Musharraf government. Since no other party is mentioned, President Musharraf can be said to be as much bound “under presumption” by its content as Saudi Arabia.

Mr Sharif challenged the government to show evidence after the series of events unfolding in Pakistan since March this year. The government did not apparently anticipate it or it would have acquired the original text of the “Harmless Agreement” from Saudi Arabia much earlier. In any case, this will go down as one of the many oversights of which the government has been guilty in recent times. The attorney general was stopped by the government from explaining the identity of the “gentleman” mentioned in the agreement who arranged the “agreement” that let the Sharif family leave Pakistan in 2000; but President Musharraf in his book In the Line of Fire has clearly stated that it was arranged by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (now King). Was the agreement signed for the “state” of Saudi Arabia? This point is hard to decipher because of the nature of the Saudi state itself.

The news from the Gulf is that the real document containing the “agreement” was lying with the late prime minister of Lebanon, Mr Rafik Hariri, who was said to be a business partner of the Sharif family together with some members of the Saudi family. The report also says that the Saudi government “lost interest” in the prosecution of the “agreement” after the death of King Fahd. This forces us to presume that the approach of Crown Prince Abdullah to President Musharraf for the release of the Sharif family was made on behalf of the then King. That the signed document was allegedly kept in Lebanon with the Hariri family strongly suggests that the release of the Sharif family was arranged by his friends abroad in their personal capacity. The fact that no other contracting party is mentioned in the agreement and only a “gentleman” is mentioned in the text seems to confirm it as such.

Now the honourable SC has decided that the “Harmless Agreement” is not binding on Mr Nawaz Sharif. So the matter of the pardon granted by the state of Pakistan to Mr Nawaz Sharif in 2000 in pursuance of a “harmless agreement” is bound to become the focus of attention since the government has revived the cases it had set aside after the pardon “because Mr Sharif violated the agreement”.

More significantly, Mr Sharif will have to decide quickly whether he will return to Pakistan immediately or drag his feet on one excuse or the other. The SC judgement has catapulted him into the limelight as the sole challenger to the unpopular General Musharraf. But all this depends on whether or not Mr Sharif is courageous enough to catch the next flight and brave General Musharraf’s repression in Pakistan. If he does, he will surely be arrested. But given the mood of the Supreme Court he should expect to be bailed out soon enough. That will make him seem even more invincible than he appears in the wake of the SC judgement. Will he take this calculated risk? But if he stays back, he will lose the initiative and Pakistanis will say he is a coward after all and is simply playing politics. Indeed, if he stays back while General Musharraf is able to retain power and hold the next elections, Mr Sharif will be marginalised from politics for a long time. Equally, if he returns to Pakistan but his strategy to become a conquering hero is overtaken by martial law, then he should expect to remain behind bars for as long as General Musharraf is around.

This judgement obviously goes against General Musharraf. But it is up to Nawaz Sharif to determine for himself whether it will go in his favour or against him. *

No comments: