By Umar Karim
Corruption, nepotism and money laundering are just some of the issues that have plagued Pakistan for decades and acted as a hindrance in the seamless governance of the country. Since these concerns have been heavily politicized – due to the involvement of public office holders — any type of stringent action, against those responsible or convicted of the crimes, continues to remain elusive.
The only significant measure taken by the former government in this regard was to establish the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — based on an agreement signed between Pakistan and the United Kingdom — with information-sharing on all matters pertaining to stolen wealth and assets being its main feature.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has been singing to the same tune since assuming power in August this year. However, the arrest of the country’s opposition leader and former Chief Minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif, demonstrates the government’s absolute political will in bringing anyone to the book, irrespective of the political implications.
Despite allegations of political victimization, the authorities have continued with their crackdown. However, it is pertinent to note that the government has limited powers to act against those who have managed to escape the country, even as it earnestly tries to bring back former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s two sons — Hassan, and Hussain — from the UK. The three have been declared as absconders by the trial courts after being convicted for money laundering and financial pilfering. The government, on its part, has formally approached the Interpol to initiate the process for their arrest.
Additionally, the sincerity of the prime minister and his administration in this context — whether it is for political purposes or as part of anti-corruption measures – was cemented by the appointment of a special assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability, whose primary focus is to oversee matters related to offshore wealth and assets of Pakistanis, acquired through illegal means. It also includes engaging with foreign governments for the recovery of illegally-obtained wealth and extradition of people involved in the activities.
Bearing in mind the legal and structural hurdles it might have to face in acting against absconders residing in foreign countries, the government engaged with the UK by signing an agreement, namely the Pakistan-UK Justice and Accountability Partnership. A salient feature of the deal includes the renewal of an exchange program for convicted persons. All these measures suggest that even though the two countries are engaging each other in this field, there is a lack of clear direction in extraditing those accused of criminal activities or declared absconders by the courts. Barrister Shahzad Akbar, the special assistant on accountability, has hinted at the possibility of the agreement being finalized by early next year.
So, what does the future hold for Dar and the scions of the Sharif family?
Since Hassan Nawaz is a British citizen, the odds of any concrete action being taken against him are very low.
In the case of Dar and Hussain, too, there exist several legal hiccups which can complicate any effort made by the government in bringing them back — even if Pakistan manages to sign an extradition treaty with the UK.
First and foremost, both individuals can approach the legal institutions in the UK and plead that the charges against them are politically motivated.
The sentencing of former PM Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, and son-in-law — as well as the recent prosecution drive against Shehbaz – can be cited as examples to build their case.
Dar could also play his ill-health card to deter any such move, as during several court proceedings he claimed to suffer from health issues related to his heart and spinal cord, going as far as to submit medical reports to back his claims. He could use this in his favor once a formal extradition request is made by the Pakistani authorities.
There are several other factors that may impact a British court’s final decision on the matter. India boasts an extradition treaty with the UK but has not achieved great success in its attempts to bring absconders back. It appears that the UK courts might be more willing to extradite individuals involved in violent crimes or terrorist activities than those who are wanted for financial embezzlement. Therefore, irrespective of whether or not an extradition treaty is signed between Pakistan and the UK, the prospects of Dar and the Sharifs being brought back to the country remain slim.
(Umar Karim is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s strategic outlook, Saudi-Iran tussle, conflict in Syria, the geopolitics of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. @UmarKarim89)