Dawn reported on October 5 that a criminal case has been filed against Pakistan opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a Lahore police station. Sharif has been accused of many crimes, including “conspiracy to wage war against Pakistan,” “condemning the creation of the country and advocating the abolishment of its sovereignty,” and sedition in a First Information Report registered by one Badar Rasheed.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sharif has been in London since November last year seeking medical treatment after a court granted him bail for eight weeks, allowing him to travel there. Sharif is under trial on separate corruption charges. Last week, Dawn reported that Pakistan had sent warrants for Sharif’s arrest to its high commission in London after he failed to return to Pakistan.
However, Islamabad’s chances of succeeding in bringing Sharif back to Pakistan are slim, not the least because the United Kingdom and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty. His daughter Maryam Sharif – also named in the case – is in the country, and increasingly the stand-in for her father as he pushes back against the Imran Khan government.
The latest development comes amid a push by Pakistan’s opposition to oust Khan from his prime ministership. But Sharif is also intent on taking on Pakistan’s all-powerful army as well. The country’s opposition widely considers Khan to be a puppet of the army, “selected” by it in 2018 to maintain a nominal façade of democracy in the country. Attending an opposition parties’ meeting virtually on September 20, Sharif launched a blistering attack on Khan and the military, noting that “our struggle is against those who installed Imran Khan and who manipulated the vote to bring an incompetent man like him to power and thus destroyed the country.”
Khan, for his part, has suggested that Sharif is doing arch-rival India’s bidding.
The September 20 meeting also saw the creation of an opposition alliance of 11 parties — including the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam F (JUI-F), Pakistan Peoples Party and PML-N — that has promised to launch protests against Khan beginning this month; the first opposition rally is scheduled for the October 18 The alliance is being headed by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman.
Speaking to The Diplomat about the implications of the fresh case against Sharif, scholar Ayesha Siddiqa noted it signifies that “[t]he battle has just started. Since he [Sharif] has taken the battle to them [the army] they are taking it back to him.” However, Siddiqa observed, to what extent the army is serious about going after Sharif and the opposition remains to be fully seen. “Maryam’s arrest if that happens will show a lot,” Siddiqa said. Calling Maryam Sharif her father’s “trump card,” she also commented that “they need to push hard and have a better campaign strategy.”
In the past, similar grand plans by Pakistan’s opposition has fallen through. Rehman’s push last year to oust Khan petered out.
One way the opposition alliance could push its campaign ahead is if Sharif returns to Pakistan to physically join the protests along with Rehman and others, instead of delegating it to other party leaders including his daughter. However, Siddiqa commented that Sharif “believes that he will be safer sitting outside and pushing the hybrid [Khan-military] government.”
“The strategy has its obvious limitations,” she said, also observing that the end game in this latest twist to Pakistani politics is not yet in sight.