Even Scherezade who told the stories of the Arabian Nights to King Shahrayar couldn’t have thought of this tale which has come before the Supreme Court. A prince of the ruling family, a former foreign minister of Qatar and shining light of the ruling Al-Thani family not without his own share of international scandals has put his name to a letter which if presented for inclusion in the Arabian Nights, Alf Laila Wa Laila, would have been rejected as too fanciful.
If the story in the letter which paints the Sharifs as purer than Snow White were carried atop the Himalayas it would flatten a peak or two, so heavy is the load it carries. When this masterpiece, for it is no less, was presented before their lordships they too could not contain their surprise and said that what the letter conveys is more hearsay than anything else.
In this post-edition of the Arabian Nights the four London flats which lie at the centre of the hearings currently taking place before the Supreme Court are conveniently attributed to the business acumen and vision of the PM’s father, the late Mian Muhammad Sharif.
He took up a business partnership with the Al-Thanis – before anyone had heard of the Sharifs as international tycoons – and so successful was that real-estate business that from its proceeds the London flats were bought. And in what is its most gripping part the letter says that in his lifetime the elder Mian Sharif had expressed the desire that proceeds from the business, including the four flats, should be inherited not by his three sons – Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and the late Abbas Sharif – but by his grandson, the Sharifs’ answer to the Rockefellers and Bill Gates, Hussain Nawaz Sharif.
In 2005-2006 the transfer of the flats to this genius was amicably affected. If this Booker Prize entry for best fiction of the year is accepted as the unvarnished truth it takes care of everything – no Nawaz Sharif incrimination, no Maryam Nawaz involvement in anything and no vexing questions about such trivia as money trail, etc.
The irrepressible Tehmina Durrani has tweeted that if the flats were in Abaji’s name Shahbaz Sharif too should have got his share of the inheritance. This is an interesting point because Mian Sharif died in October 2004 when the flats, if we are to believe the new Arabian Nights, were still jointly owned by the Qataris and Mian Sharif…and they had not been transferred to the enterprising Hussain Nawaz.
But the Shahbaz Sharif line got nothing. Does this mean that far from being in Mian Sharif’s name, the flats were the property of someone else? This is the main point the petitioners have to prove – the ownership of the flats before 2005. On this, in my untutored view, the whole case turns.
But regardless of how this Qatari gem comes to be treated in literary circles, one has to admire the fortitude and hardihood of the Sharifs. Lesser mortals, souls less endowed with confidence or that magic thing called audacity, would blush or be reduced to embarrassment given that with every Sharif there has been a different explanation of the London flats.
The daughter, the family’s brightest star, says one thing; the mother says another; and the brothers in their TV interviews, Alhamdolillah, something else. The PM himself, addressing the nation, adopts a line of defence at total variance with all the foregoing. When Emerson said that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds he could not have known how this wisdom would be applied by the Sharifs. If he could look into the future he would no doubt have revised his opinion. But as if all this was not enough, out of the blue now comes in his royal highness with a tale to beat all other tales.
But the unparalleled beauty of it is that on the faces of the knights concerned there is not the slightest shade of embarrassment. They say one thing and it is uttered with the utmost self-confidence. The story changes, previous explanations stood on their head, but the confidence, the chutzpah, remains the same. Leave the facts and the legalities to one side. The performance and style have to be admired.
What don’t we owe our military rulers? Look at their greatest gifts to the nation. They gave us the fruits of jihad and the ‘mujahideen’…who became the Taliban and parts of which later morphed into Daesh. And they gave us the Sharifs. The ‘mujahideen’, as we know, outgrew their creators. The Sharifs too have outgrown their mentors and benefactors, becoming bigger than them.
The Qatar connection of the present ruling lot as we know is very strong. The Qataris played a role in getting Nawaz Sharif out of Pakistan during Musharraf’s time. And there are many ongoing deals with the Qataris, including the gas deal in which Pakistan is locked for the next 15 years.
And I have a paper before me which says that Prince Hammad who has come to the defence of the Sharifs is in some kind of a business arrangement with that jack-in-the-box whose name keeps popping up whenever the business dealings of the Sharifs are spoken about: Saifur Rehman, who was Nawaz Sharif’s accountability chief during his second incarnation as prime minister. Like a bad dream which keeps recurring he refuses to go away.
Money and power have always been connected but never was the embrace tighter than in today’s Pakistan. Before Gen Zia’s advent to power the Sharifs were not in the front rank of Pakistani industrialists. The Ittefaq Group was known but it was not at par with any of the 22 families. Then came their admittance into Zia’s power circle and there was no stopping them…banks were more than generous and Mian Sharif was an astute businessman. Their factories multiplied and then somewhere on that road to power and glory the London properties came to be bought.
Enmeshed in the web of Panamagate an explanation was needed for the proprietorship of the flats which the Qatari prince, now on the verge of becoming a household name in Pakistan, has provided.
I don’t think he will ever be foolish enough to present himself in person before their lordships. That is not how Arab princelings go about their business, they not given to sticking their necks out more than necessary. So let’s see how this drama, for it is no less, plays out. The present ruling lot has escaped so much over the years, scandals that would have brought anyone else low. I’ve said it before but it can be said again: if the PPP had been thus embroiled it would have had the life squeezed out of it.
Or anyone else confronted with a tenth of this pressure would have undergone a meltdown. But we are talking of tough hides and some of the toughest consciences invented this side of the oceans.