PML-N breathes defiance after Shahbaz’s arrest


• Opposition leader faces charges of accumulation of assets beyond means, money laundering
• Nawaz terms arrest ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’
• Crucial PDM meeting today

LAHORE: As the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested on Monday PML-N president and Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif after the Lahore High Court denied him further relief of pre-arrest bail in the assets beyond means and money laundering case, the party said the drive against ‘fascist regime’ had begun.

The party leadership, including Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, gave a strong reaction, saying the arrest would not deter implementation of the multiparty conference’s (MPC) decisions and the newly-formed opposition’s alliance — Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) — called a meeting on Tuesday (today) in Islamabad to review the situation after Shahbaz’s detention and possible arrest of other leaders, the PTI government’s alleged plan to rig Gilgit-Baltistan and local bodies polls and give a final shape to the decisions taken at the MPC.

“The puppet regime has endorsed the MPC’s resolution by arresting Shahbaz. Shahbaz Sharif had told the MPC that whether he would be in jail or not all decisions taken in MPC would be implemented. I want to say… make no mistake, we can never be silenced through coercive tactics,” former premier Nawaz Sharif tweeted from London.

Speaking to reporters outside Stanhope House, Nawaz Sharif termed his brother’s arrest “unjustifiable and unacceptable”. He said the current administration had broken all records of injustice, adding his party would not be cowed into submission by such tactics.

When asked if Shahbaz’s arrest was expected after his fiery MPC speech, Nawaz Sharif said: “The nation was expecting Asim Bajwa to be arrested and was waiting for him to be asked to show how a serving officer amassed so many assets in 15-20 years. He should have been arrested but instead they arrested Shahbaz Sharif.”

Maryam Nawaz said in a tweet: “Make no mistake. Shahbaz Sharif has been arrested ONLY because he REFUSED to play in the hands of those who wanted to use him against his brother (Nawaz Sharif). He preferred standing behind prison bars than to stand against his brother. Shahbaz Sharif, aap ko SALAM.”

Ms Nawaz also held a hard-hitting presser in Lahore to condemn Shahbaz’s arrest. She said the drive against Imran Khan’s ‘fascist’ regime had begun from today and the MPC’s decision would be implemented at any cost. “We have the options of decisive long march and resignations,” she said and declared the drive against the `imposed’ PTI government would not stop even if it arrested her and other opposition leaders. She said Nawaz Sharif would lead this campaign.

She said all those wishing to split in the PML-N must be disappointed as Shahbaz’s support to his elder brother remained unwavering. “Shahbaz believes in the politics of reconciliation but he never defied his elder brother and the party Quaid. Imran is feeling extremely insecure fearing Shahbaz may replace him any moment therefore he got him arrested.”

Maryam also asked the institutions to withdraw their support to “this incompetent person (Imran)”. “The institutions that imposed an immature, incompetent, corrupt and inexperienced person like Imran Khan should think that he has landed the country in disaster. From the fall of Kashmir to the fall of the economy, this government has done blunders unprecedented in the history of the country,” she said.

Targeting retired Lt-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa who is chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority and special assistant to the premier on information, Maryam Nawaz said: “Has anybody any courage to summon Asim Bajwa for having huge assets? Despite having a business empire of 99 companies, Asim Saleem Bajwa is roaming free and no institution is ready to investigate him. The children of Nawaz and Shahbaz were tagged as dependents on their fathers only to institute false cases against them while the children of Asim Bajwa are accepted as independent with their own businesses,” she said and asked how come a salaried person made billions of rupees?

She said if the court did not take up Asim Bajwa’s case itself, it would be taken to the PDM to decide how to proceed against him.

Ms Nawaz also talked about how the judges were blackmailed and pressured to give decisions against them (PML-N leaders). “Those who cave in become Judge Arshad Malik and those who stand up are persecuted like Justice Qazi Faiz Isa and Justice Shaukat Siddiqui. We stand with the judiciary to liberate it from this pressure and also the media,” she vowed.

Talking about PML-N leader Muhammad Zubair’s meeting with army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Maryam rejected it was held on her and Nawaz’s direction. “I respect DG ISPR but he should not have painted a private meeting as a political one. If I had shared all the contents of the meeting things would have got ugly,” she said.

In the LHC, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem and Justice Farooq Haider heard the arguments at length from NAB and Shahbaz’s counsels before dismissing the petition as withdrawn.

As the bench announced its decision, the legal team of the PML-N president sought permission from it to withdraw the petition, which was granted. It is usual to withdraw a petition for pre-arrest bail, if not allowed, so its decision may not prejudice the proceedings of post-arrest bail.

At the outset of the hearing, Shahbaz’s lead counsel Azam Nazir Tarar reiterated his arguments that the arrest after the filing of the reference was beyond any reason.

Justice Haider asked the counsel, if the suspects in the reference had been indicted, he said copies of the reference had been distributed among the suspects and the process for the indictment was in progress. He also alleged that the government wanted to see Shahbaz in jail before the upcoming local government’s elections.

Advocate Amjad Pervez, who also represented Shahbaz, argued the petitioner was not answerable for the deeds of his children as they were not dependent on him. He said as per the judgments of the superior courts the onus to prove the allegation of “benamidar” was on the prosecution.

The NAB failed to attach any documentary evidence against Shahbaz with its detailed reference, he said and added none of prime prosecution witnesses and the ‘approvers’ gave any statement against the petitioner.

He said NAB had not accused Shahbaz of being owner of his children’s properties till he filed the petition for the pre-arrest bail. He said the bureau changed its stance after reading the contents of the petition. He asked the bench to confirm the bail of Shahbaz.

NAB Special Prosecutor Syed Faisal Raza Bokhari, in his half-an-hour long arguments, said Mr Shahbaz had cooperated with the investigation team after he was granted pre-arrest bail by the court.

Rejecting a claim of Shahbaz, he said the investigation to the extent of the petitioner was still in progress. The prosecutor said Shahbaz failed to explain financial sources of buying flats in London. He said the family members of the petitioner also failed to respond to a questionnaire sent by the NAB.

Previously, Shahbaz was arrested on Oct 5, 2018 in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and later in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case. The LHC had released him on bail in both cases on Feb 17, 2019.

PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Khwaja Saad Rafiq, Rana Sanaullah, Marriyum Auranzeb and Muhammad Mehdi were among hundreds of charged workers were present on the court premises.