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January 16, 2019
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Pakistan: Hope for change is still alive

ISLAMABAD: 24th December 2018 was filled with excitement, eagerness, anxiety, suspension, and confusion. The day began with a long wait, which left the people of Pakistan with a mixed feeling, and hopes for the future. Ex-prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 7 years in prison in the Al-Azizia reference under Section 9(a)(v) and Section 10 of the National Accountability Ordinance, with heavy fines, amounting to $25 million dollars by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The section implies that the public office holder is found guilty of an offense of corruption or was found indulging in corrupt practices. The ex-Prime Minister is restrained from participating in politics for ten years. Moreover, he cannot take a loan or financial assistance from banks and other institutions in Pakistan. Hassan and Hussain Nawaz are declared as absconders and permanent arrest warrants have been issued for them. The court also ordered to seize Hill Metal and Al-Azizia property. Furthermore, instructions were given to the federal government to take necessary action to ensure the recovery of property from Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, Mian Nawaz Sharif was acquitted in Flagship reference. The court imposed a fine of $1.5 billion dollars. The verdict was taken with optimism from both sides. NAB is filing an appeal against Flagship reference verdict, whereas PML(N) will go the high court to fight against the Al-Azizia verdict. Nawaz Sharif was shifted to Adiala jail, Rawalpindi where he spent the night and was transferred to Kot Lakhpat prison on Tuesday as per his request.

The contradictions between the verdicts of two references are a sign of hope for PML(N). Furthermore, it has created doubts, and worries in the hearts and minds of others. This can be the foundation of any NRO in the future. It is a fact that, this was one of the longest NAB cases, spanning over 15 months with 183 hearings. The case was full of twist, turns, and tactics.

Nawaz Sharif choose not to present any defense. The role of investigation officers has been critised time and again in the Flagship reference, which is now reflected in the verdict as well. In case any exemption is granted to the ex-Prime Minister the Flagship reference can come in handy.

Finally, the judiciary has to adhere to law, rules, and regulations and a lot depends on the prosecution conduct, and preparation, which was considerably weak this time. Moreover, Nawaz Sharif will also resort to the Flagship reference to seek any relaxations or reviews in the future.

Pakistan is at a critical junction where the road to success is difficult. At the same time, it is essential to address the evils of corruption. The process has already started from the top and a dedicated effort can be evidently seen.

But identifying corruption in the opposition lines alone cannot serve the purpose. It should be cross board without any discrimination. If we fail to do that, we can, not only, lose track of future success, but can deprive ourselves of the hard-earned democracy.

The PTI government has been reinforcing its commitment, and firm stance to counter, and eliminate corruption, but the echo of NRO emerges time and again, which leaves the public in utter confusion and dismay. Even if the government yields to the mounting pressure, the people of Pakistan are not willing to compromise on corruption this time. They have paid enough, and are still paying a heavy price of deep-rooted corruption in Pakistan.

Today, they are seeing sky-high inflation, mounting dollar rate, and a rise in prices for the hope of a better future and they are not willing to let it go. They deserve a better life, which is, in one way or the other, taken away from them through loot and plunder of the ruling and the elite. Today’s verdict is part hope and part dismay. Only time will reveal its impact on Pakistan, and its people.

In Pakistan, the decision of change was fueled by hope, hope to prosper, hope to be respected, hope to develop and grow. But above all, the changed was based on the desire to be corruption free. The initial steps are taken towards the long and far target, but a lot is needed.

It is critical to enhancing NAB’s capacity to ensure cross board accountability. No one, in any case, should be excused, or relaxed for any misuse of public office, dishonesty, and corruption. Furthermore, the process should be transparent and fair.