In recent times, the UK has been seen by the world through various prisms – Covid-19 mismanagement, NATO wars, US ingratiation, atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, or indeed the continuing fallout of its greatest act of national self-harm: Brexit; leading to petrol, food and medicine crises due to the consequential exit of some 20,000 lorry drivers back to Europe.
The only country where the UK is viewed through an entirely different prism is Pakistan.
Take the recent “promotion” of Pakistan by the UK from its red to amber list category for the purpose of travel to the UK. It was quite amazing to see the jubilation across the country at the upgrade, as if Pakistan had won a victory on the battlefield. Or at least that’s how it appeared on social media. The disproportionate celebratory mood was particularly ironic, given that the issue of Pakistan being on the UK’s red list as a high-risk Covid country really only affected a small group of the population, i.e. dual nationals, residents in the UK of Pakistani origin, as well as a tiny number of affluent politicians, judges, generals, bureaucrats and businessmen who have a penchant for taking ‘Heathrow breaks’ after a demanding period of work. Private jets have often been known to fly into London from Pakistan.
However, the pervasive worry about Pakistan remaining on the UK red list was felt from Garam Chashma to Gadani. The masses become infuriated when India was promoted to amber and Pakistan was left on the red list, and paid little heed to the challenges faced by the UK after Brexit, including the need to eye India as a major trading partner after the US. Keeping India on the red list meant less travel, less interaction and less trade. Pakistan’s luck changed after recent events in in Afghanistan and dubiously, once again, the Islamic republic became a perceived “important” nation to the British. Or at least important enough to gain an amber travel badge and to allow countrymen across the four provinces to pass around the proverbial mitthai in celebration.
Until now Pakistan seemed to be viewing England purely through the rose-tinted hues of the traffic light system of COVID-19 regulations. But the England and Wales Cricket Board’s spineless decision to cancel the English cricket team’s tour of Pakistan at the last minute revealed another prism through which Pakistan sees its former coloniser.
It is fair to say that this U-turn felt like an unsavoury and bitter reaction by the UK after its debacle in Afghanistan, where the UK along with the US and other NATO countries found egg smeared over their collectives faces. Whenever such a thing happens, a scapegoat is needed. In this case, it was the ISI and Pakistan. It is hard to believe that the UK did not stir and influence the New Zealand contingent in Pakistan to scrap their tour at the last second and leave the country.
So Pakistan now also sees England through the prism of cricket tour cancellations. The fact is, that every now and then there is an issue with the UK that is Pakistan-specific, so Britain is then seen through the lens of that issue until it is ongoing. However, there has been one constant Pak-UK issue that has not gone away – the Sharif family! Be it the purchase of the Avenfield House apartments, Mrs. Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness and passing away, the various entries and exits of Sharif family members to and from Heathrow, and the epic drama of the ailing Nawaz Sharif’s flight from Pakistan to London. We have now become used to looking at the UK through this prism.
The fact is that Pakistan views Britain purely through its own very personal lens. And this makes it quite natural to view Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, as an Indian stooge hailing from Gujrat, Narinder Modi’s very province. For example, it was erroneously said in Pakistani circles that Priti Patel, being an Indian tout in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, had heeded PM Modi’s request to keep Nawaz Sharif in the UK, despite requests from Pakistan to deport him (as he is a convicted prisoner sent on parole to seek urgent medical attention in London).
The truth is a different story. Firstly, Priti Patel’s parents came from Uganda, where they had a convenience store in Kampala, until Idi Amin kicked out Indian-origin businessmen. They landed in England in the 1960s, Priti was born in London and studied in and around the capital. Hence, she’s as British as anybody else. Her being of the Hindu faith doesn’t make her any different than Sajid Javed, a born Muslim, in the cabinet.
For the Home Secretary, Nawaz Sharif’s arrival into the UK on a red diplomatic passport, entitling the holder to a visa-on-arrival for medical treatment, was no big news. Nawaz Sharif’s 11 month medical visa, coupled with an earlier six-month visa, gave him the lawful time he needed to get his treatment. However, his request for renewal would under normal circumstances, irrespective of nationality, be likely to be refused. So, when he applied for a visa extension, Sharif was shown the door. The appeal process in the UK is not indeterminate and has to come to its natural conclusion. Sharif will now likely have to leave London on a one-way temporary passport issued by the Pakistani High Commission.
There is yet another prism we can see the UK through – the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The NCA is akin to our FIA with the difference that whereas the FIA usually resorts to prosecution in the courts, the NCA merely investigates specific crimes and passes the cases to the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecuting in the Crown Court and jury verdicts. One of the areas of investigation by the NCA is, of course, money laundering. A traditional way of money laundering is through the buying of real estate. The price of property in London and farm houses in the suburbs can run into staggering amounts, and buying property has been the easiest way to launder ill-gotten wealth in foreign jurisdictions. Lawyers, accountants and financial intermediaries can become well-paid tools of this exercise.
The NCA continues to get Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) from various quarters, including foreign reports under the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters vehicle. The NCA at present is dealing with over 400,000 SARs. The organisation acts more vigorously when there is the involvement of what is known as a Politically Exposed Person (PEP).
Suleman Shahbaz Sharif, along with one Zulfikar Ahmad, were the subject of NCA’s money laundering investigation, in respect of the purchase of a flat in Upper Berkeley Street, London W1. The price of this flat was under 300,000 pounds, for which a loan of 120,000 pounds had been secured from Barclays Bank, and nearly 60,000 was a loan from a Pakistani-origin businessman, Aneel Mussarat. The subject of inquiry about this sole property of the Sharifs was the loan of the 60,000. An Asset Freezing Order (AFO) was sought by the NCA from Westminster Magistrates court, which was granted by the District Judge in December 2019 for a period of 12 months.
The Westminster Magistrates’ court has a unique status in England, where the presiding officer is a District Judge as opposed to a Lay Magistrate (‘Lay’ in the sense of non-lawyer). This court, inter alia, functions as the administrative arm of the government, where all manner of requests under the international treaties, mutual legal assistance, unexplained wealth orders, extradition matters etc. are dealt with.
The two Asset Freezing Orders were subsequently extended until September 17, 2021, when the NCA was satisfied with the loan aspect and the bit chipped in by Suleman Sharif for the purchase of the flat; they applied to the magistrate to unfreeze the property. This was done accordingly by the Westminster court. That is the long and short of the matter.
So what is claimed by the PML-N or certain sections of the media as an ‘acquittal’ or some kind of clearance certificate over alleged corruption, it is nothing more than utter nonsense.
An acquittal is the consequence of a jury trial in the Crown Court where a prosecution is carried out by Crown Prosecution Service barristers. There was no case of corruption against Suleman Sharif in any Crown Court, hence claiming acquittal is nothing but political jugglery. The nexus between the NAB prosecution and NCA investigation is non-existent. Those are two different jurisdictions. This Consent Order of un-freezing a flat belonging to Suleman Sharif has not even been admissible as defence evidence in a court trying corruption charges against the Sharifs.
The upshot here is that the consequences of using Pakistani prisms to look at the UK, result in ignorance about Britain’s confusion manifesting after its divorce from the European Union. Imagine that UK petrol pumps are closed due to no petrol or diesel, and big supermarkets have empty shelves due to a lack of supplies. The National Health Service is warning of a serious impact on the health and treatment of patients. All of this is emerging as the first among other big Brexit blows.
As of now, this news is not of particular interest to Pakistanis, but just watch our media jump into action when, inevitably, the UK government calls on its army to help it resolve the growing crises.