Hours after being sentenced to jail by an accountability court, deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a defiant note on Friday reiterated his commitment to return to Pakistan.
“As part of my struggle, I am returning to Pakistan. I will pursue this struggle even from jail,” Sharif told journalists in London. He was flanked by his daughter Maryam Nawaz.
Sharif, however, did not give any specific time or date for his return to Pakistan. When asked, the former prime minister mentioned the deteriorating health of his wife Kulsoom Nawaz as the reason for not being able to return immediately.
“I invite the people of Pakistan to join my journey. This is my struggle and yours, to uphold the sanctity of ballot,” he said.
Sharif alleged that he was sent a message a few months back to stay in London to avoid further legal problems.
“I was in London for my wife’s treatment and was told that I should ‘stay in London, have your wife treated there, and the case against you will go away on its own,” Sharif said in a thinly-veiled reference to the security establishment.
He said conspiracies hatched against democracy “amount to treason against the constitutional oath.”
“Today, if they skip being held accountable due to their boundless power and influence, tomorrow they will be taken to task. The people of Pakistan will not spare the violators of the Constitution who disgrace the sanctity of the ballot and the public mandate.”
Sharif then slammed “a few judges and generals who dictate their unholy agenda and apolitical motives on the public. After the British, we are now being controlled by this bunch.”
In the same vein, the former prime minister claimed that the accountability court’s verdict showed that allegations of corruption could not be proven against him.
“I made 109 appearances in the accountability court along with my daughter. Elected representatives face accountability and undemocratic forces have held Pakistan’s democratic set up hostage.
“Staged sit-ins, protests of religious groups are sponsored against elected governments. A few years ago, a journalist was killed and his body was dumped,” Sharif said while referring to the killing of journalist Saleem Shehzad in 2011.
Maryam also seconded her father, saying she, too, received “messages not to return to Pakistan and stay in London or else we would not spare you”.
On the other hand, Sharif’s failure to give any definite schedule to return to Pakistan has caught the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership in disarray and confusion.
“I will return to Pakistan soon. I have been here for three weeks waiting for my wife to recover. She’s on a ventilator. Once she gets better and regains consciousness, I will say my ‘Salaam’, have a word with her and leave for Pakistan,” Sharif said in his presser about his return plans.
Later, Maryam tweeted in Urdu, “We are going to the hospital from here and Inshallah, we will book tickets to return to Pakistan after speaking to the doctors.”
On Wednesday, Sharif had made a similar statement, indicating his plans to return to Pakistan soon while requesting the accountability court to delay the verdict in the Avenfield case for a week.
“I want to hear this judgment myself while present in the court…and I would like to hear it from the judge,” he told journalists in London.
PML-N sources said that Sharif’s failure to give a definite date about his return is brewing problems for the PML-N that is already struggling with its campaign for July 25 general polls.
“Sharif needs to return as soon as possible. His absence from Pakistan’s political scene is costing us dearly,” said a candidate for a National Assembly seat from Lahore, requesting anonymity.
The source said PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif’s policies were in open contradiction to his elder brother’s stance.
“Mian sahib minces no words in targeting the security establishment. Shehbaz is vague and ambiguous when it comes to the establishment and the judiciary. The party is in chaos and nobody knows the exact party position on a host of issues. Election preparations are also being ignored.”
Discussions with some senior party leaders suggest that the N-League leadership was expecting that the deposed prime minister would land in Pakistan by Thursday and appear before the accountability court on Friday. However, Sharif had other plans.
Requesting anonymity, a senior PML-N member spoke about the reports of a covert deal between the deposed prime minister and the security establishment.
“Under the circumstances, Sharif should have taken the initiative to land in Pakistan and hear the court verdict to clear the air of confusion…and then show that no deal is in the offing and he was ready to face the challenges, come what may.”
The party official also referred to the poor sewerage conditions in Lahore and other parts of Punjab that have been inundated by rainwater, thus bringing the former PML-N government under harsh public criticism.
“To tackle these challenges, you need a figure like Sharif at the helm. He is nowhere to be seen. In politics, family commitments and personal priorities have to be compromised for the greater good, especially when you are one of the leading political figures of the country.”