Why Maryam is behind bars again

Murtaza Solangi explains the context behind the PML-N leader’s arrest

Why Maryam is behind bars again
While Pakistanis were still processing the shock of the formal annexation of Jammu and Kashmir and the scrapping of Article 370 from the Indian constitution, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, from Kotlakhpat Jail where she was visiting her ailing father.

A joint session of the parliament was called to discuss Kashmir’s annexation as the PTI government and its backers reeled with embarrassment over the shocking development. Most wanted national unity to face the challenge. But the arrest of the emerging PML-N leader raised many questions. Most pundits wondered why she was arrested in front of her ailing and incarcerated father and her teenage daughter on the third day of the announcement of the annexation.

A closer look at the governance of Imran Khan’s administration after the controversial elections last year might provide some answers. Let us rewind back to August last year when Imran Khan was elected the leader of the House, hours before his formal swearing in prime minister. As soon as the vote count was completed and Khan’s victory was announced, he began his first speech as the new leader of the House. When the members of the opposition benches began chanting slogans, Khan had to use headphones to speak to the House that had elected him. Khan, who sounded like a statesman in an earlier speech made from Banigala, blew his fuse. The prime minister forgot his prepared speech and joined the shouting match in the Parliament. Khan has not looked back since that day and has consistently taken his opponent heads on as the main priority of his administration. Governance, inclusive politics and improving the economy - all these things took a backseat on that fateful day.

Till the day of Khan’s election, the PPP, led by former president Asif Zardari, was a silent partner of the PTI. Even on the day of Khan’s election, Zardari waited in the parliament house to congratulate him and shake his hand.

In the months leading to the July 2018 election, the PPP had chosen the PML-N as its enemy number one, alluding to the possibility of a coalition government with Khan’s party. When Khan won the election of the Leader of the House with barely additional four votes, the PPP had reneged on its commitment to support Shehbaz Sharif as the joint candidate against the PTI as agreed in a multi-party conference earlier. Since that day, Imran Khan’s main agenda has been the decimation of his opponents by hook or crook. This appears to be the only legacy of his government so far. Be it politicians, sports bodies, state organisations, academia, judiciary, parliament, his own party or the media, Khan is obsessed with hitting everybody hard when there is a slight divergence from his position.

Another aspect of Imran Khan’s legacy has been constant distractions and smokescreens to hoodwink the people. The prime minister has consistently tried to create sideshows and capture media space to divert attention from burning issues.

Although Khan had boasted on his return from US that a mediation offer on Kashmir by President Trump felt like winning the second world cup, the August 5 annexation of Jammu and Kashmir took everyone by surprise. Khan’s administration was so shocked that there was no word from the prime minister for a good 24 hours. Even the joint session of the parliament was convened on the request of PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

It became evident that Imran Khan and his backers were caught completely off guard by the news when it emerged that foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was in Saudi Arabia offering Haj and Pakistan’s permanent representative Dr Maleeha Lodhi was enjoying holidays in Europe. With Pakistan unprepared, India formally annexed the state of Jammu and Kashmir, decimating relevant UN resolutions, commitments by her founding fathers, the spirit of the instrument of accession and the agreement it signed with Sheikh Abdullah and the Simla Agreement of 1972.

What does all this have to do with Maryam Nawaz Sharif? Truth is, the emerging leader and the political heir apparent of Nawaz Sharif has been hitting Khan’s administration hard during her public rallies and meetings. She has been drawing large crowds and has been speaking boldly about the nexus of the accountability outfit with the current administration and ripping off the fig-leaf of the judicial process. This was happening despite a complete media blackout. While her uncle Shehbaz Sharif extended an olive branch to Khan’s embattled and rattled administration, Maryam took an extreme position and dubbed the administration as complicit in the entire annexation saga. Her next scheduled stop was addressing a public meeting in Azad Jammu Kashmir on August 15.

This was not acceptable to Imran Khan’s administration and it was evident from the fact that on the very first day of the joint session of the parliament, accountability czar Shehzad Akbar addressed a press conference talking about “new evidence” of the Sharif’s “corruption.”

Even a hawk like Fawad Chaudhry admitted on a TV channel that the press conference by Shehzad Akbar was odd and inappropriate.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s arrest reveals the sadist nature of Imran Khan’s administration on one hand and reveals its media policy on the other; when you have a crisis, don’t resolve it. Instead, create a bigger crisis to shift the focus.

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad