Person of the Week: Nawaz Sharif


Person of the Week: Nawaz Sharif

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Nawaz Sharif’s flight from Abu Dhabi to Lahore yesterday was probably the most exciting air journey since Snakes on a Plane – though the IRL drama far exceeds the viewers of the Hollywood thriller. The difference was that instead of venomous reptiles, the aircraft was likely to be crawling with political intrigue. Once Sharif landed, there was no welcome drink awaiting him. Instead, there was a Pakistani law enforcement agent doing his best Arnie impression and screaming “GET TO DA CHOPPA!” as they bundled the former Prime Minister into a helicopter to transport him to a Rawalpindi jail.

At a time when the monsoon turned Mumbai into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Sharif has still managed to make Lahore the most action-packed city in the subcontinent. For that alone, he deserves the honour of Person of the Week. So get yourself a lawyer and brush up on your rights, because at this party, everybody is leaving in handcuffs.

Shashi Tharoor might be going hoarse insisting that India is turning into Hindu Pakistan due to the aggressive majoritarian polarisation in the country, but Sharif was caught doing his very best to turn Pakistan into India when it comes to political corruption at the highest levels. The Avenfield corruption case, which saw Pakistan’s courts find Sharif guilty of possessing disproportionate assets, including several high-end flats in London, can easily hold its own among the long list of Indian scams, from Bofors to Coalgate.

Corruption seems to be a family business for the Sharif clan. Proving right an old saying about apples and their proximity to the trees they fall from, Sharif’s daughter and heir-apparent, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, was also convicted by the courts, and will serve a seven-year sentence, while her father does ten. The same corruption charge has already landed his son-in-law in the slammer for a one-year stay, while Sharif’s grandsons were arrested in London for roughing up a protester outside their Avenfield residence.

Clearly, at some point in the distant past, whoever named this family Sharif was being ironic.

What makes Sharif special is the amount of effort Pakistani law enforcement took to ensure he was safely taken into custody once he landed.

The family’s ostentatious assets being revealed in the Panama Papers was the beginning of the end for Sharif’s third term as Prime Minister. The verdict from Pakistan’s Supreme Court regarding its corrupt PM must have sounded something like, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, and you’re going to jail for 10 solid years.”

“So what?” I hear you ask. It’s true, being caught for corruption and sent to jail is hardly unexplored territory for politicians, no matter which country they hail from. What makes Sharif special is the amount of effort Pakistani law enforcement took to ensure he was safely taken into custody once he landed. Some sections of Pakistani media even claimed this was a witch hunt organised by the Army, which has never enjoyed a good working relationship with Sharif, much like Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar.

Over 300 workers and leaders of Sharif’s political party PML-N were arrested overnight, to foil any plans to protest his arrest. Lahore is experiencing what Thane and Virar did during this week’s rains, as the city’s internet and mobile services are suspended ahead of Sharif’s impending arrest. Mumbai’s suburbs weathered a real storm, but Sharif has rocked Lahore like a hurricane. In what might be a slight case of overkill, 10,000 (!) police officers have been deployed in the city to ensure everything proceeds smoothly. That’s how many Orcs Saruman sent to destroy Helm’s Deep in the second LOTR film. A corrupt politician and a mythical, impregnable fortress shouldn’t require the same amount of manpower to overcome, but apparently in Pakistan, anything can happen.

The arrest of Nawaz Sharif seems like the most exciting thing to have happened in our neighbouring country since they lifted the World Cup in 1992. After all, Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, lived casually within Pakistan’s borders for years on end and the authorities didn’t display a fraction of the enthusiasm they seem to have reserved for apprehending Sharif.

The last time he was Pakistan’s PM, Sharif’s term ended with him being exiled to Saudi Arabia by Musharraf’s regime, instead of going to jail after the military’s coup. This time, he’s decided to face the music and move to the jailhouse rock.