With corruption charges yet unproven, PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz has been released from the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on bail in the wake of the orders of the Lahore High court issued on Wednesday. Despite detaining Hamza for quite a long time — 20 months and 13 days to be exact — the accountability watchdog failed to bring evidence to convince the court that the accused was involved in money laundering and holding assets beyond his known sources of income. The case however continues.
Hamza, the opposition leader in the Punjab assembly, joins a pretty long list of PML-N leaders who have gone through the same cycle of arrest, long detention and release on bail. Such leaders include Khwaja Saad Rafiq, Khwaja Salman Rafiq, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal, apart from Fawad Hasan Fawad and Ahad Cheema, the two bureaucrats who held top administrative positions in the PML-N government. Party president Shehaz Sharif and senior leader Khwaja Asif — in NAB custody over corruption allegations since September and December of last year respectively — have, however, yet to make it to the growing list.
Hamza had been denied bail twice earlier — first by the Lahore High Court on February 11, 2020 and then by the Supreme Court in January 2021. But this time around, the court accepted the bail application which was moved mainly on the grounds of inordinate delay in the case — something that raises serious questions as to the NAB’s prosecution capabilities.
And, while Hamza’s release is a welcome development for the PML-N — a political victory scored against the PTI government — it also threatens to reignite the battle of political narratives within the PML-N. Remember the Shehbaz Sharif camp believes in the politics of reconciliation with the powers-that-be as against the Nawaz Sharif camp that has moved far ahead over its politics of confrontation.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2021.