Noisy lawyers’ convention lends support to defiant Nawaz

“I have been fighting for Pakistan’s democracy and the case of its people in the courts,” former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said on Friday as he addressed an increasingly noisy lawyer’s convention at Aiwan-i-Iqbal in Lahore. The former premier, who was finding it difficult to speak due to a throat ailment, was frequently drowned out by lawyers shouting slogans in support of him. There were general signs of rowdiness in the crowd, with some loyalists taking to standing on top of tables to display their support for Sharif. Lauding the members of the legal fraternity for their struggle against dictatorship, the former premier recalled that “in the movement [against Pervez Musharraf], lawyers had been at the forefront.” “[Allama] Iqbal, a lawyer, presented Pakistan’s vision. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was also a lawyer,” the former premier remarked in a bid to strike a chord with the gathering.

“You people ran a movement and sacrificed your lives so that the country may be free of dictators,” Sharif said. “Your movement against dictatorship served all the people of the country, not just a small group,” he added. “Today, lawyers again have a responsibility to play a part in the fight for justice in this country,” Nawaz said. The deposed prime minister told the gathering that he had presented himself for an investigation by the courts as soon as the Panama Papers were leaked in 2016, even though his name “was not in the papers.” “No one responded to my offer [to present myself for accountability] for several months. And then they came up with a number of justifications for prolonging this process,” he said. “One verdict was given on April 20, the other was given on July 28. And you know the technicalities of the verdict better than me,” he said. The former premier went on to question aspects of the July 28 verdict of the Panamagate case, which called for his disqualification under Article 62 of the Constitution. Calling the Supreme Court-ordered investigation against him and members of his family “suspicious,” he questioned why a joint investigation team was constituted and why intelligence agencies were given a role in the investigation when there has been “no precedent of such agencies being involved in matters other than those of national security.” “Can judges be added to a smaller bench once they have given their verdict already?” Nawaz also asked. “Can the National Accountability Bureau be given special instructions?” “I did my part and stepped down from the prime minsiter’s seat,” Nawaz said. “But I have not accepted it and neither has the nation.” “I am not concerned about the effect the verdict will have on me. I care about the precedent that will be set in the country,” he said. “The verdict will remembered as unjust,” he said. “Verdicts like these have negative effects on the justice system.” He also said he had been made “victim of such cases before.” “First a president removed me, and then a dictator,” he said. “Now a court has removed me.” He told the gathered lawyers he especially regretted that he had been removed by the judicial system this time. “The people of Pakistan have given numerous sacrifices for the judicial system and they expect justice to be carried out,” he remarked. Nawaz also stressed that while dictators have ruled the country for an average of eight years each, elected prime ministers have only been allowed two years on average. “What does that say about our country?” he asked. “The sanctity of votes needs to be protected,” he added, referring to his recently announced ‘mission’ to “restore the people’s mandate”. “My fight it not about me, it about reviving the sanctity of the vote,” Nawaz said, calling on the lawyers to stand with him. “My mission is to shut down the means through which democracies are derailed and elected leaders are sent home,” he said.