Nawaz Sharif: what next?
Let me start with my conclusions first: The judicial disqualification of Nawaz Sharif from the Prime Minister’s position is not going to change Indo-Pakistan relations or its foreign policy. It is not going to change the dynamics of its internal equilibrium where the Army will continue to be comfortably ensconced in a commanding position. It is not going to be the end of the “Sharif dynasty” as some Pakistan columnists have predicted. There is every possibility of Nawaz Sharif bouncing back into the PM’s chair if past history is any indication.
Admittedly judicial accountability of high personages is of a much higher standard in Pakistan than in India. Yet democracy is struggling in that country and hence any move by democratically elected PMs to make bold attempts towards parliament’s supremacy is a commendable trend. That is where Nawaz shines more than any other Pakistan PM
Further, I don’t want to comment on the merits of the Pakistan Supreme Court’s “Panamagate” judgment which was delivered even before a full investigation by the National Accountability Bureau had started. So it is something like the judicial disqualificationof former PM Yousef Raza Gilani who was convicted for contempt of court. As Pakistani activist Asma Jahangir had said: “The judgment has caused cracks in the walls of Supreme Court because it is so unique. It will create doubts about whether it is a political judgment,”
Admittedly judicial accountability of high personages is of a much higher standard in Pakistan than in India. Yet democracy is struggling in that country and hence any move by democratically elected PMs to make bold attempts towards parliament’s supremacy is a commendable trend. That is where Nawaz shines more than any other Pakistan PM, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who could have really transformed Pakistan into a genuine democracy after the military was shamed by the 1971 defeat. But he did not do it and wasted his energy in petty squabbles which felled him.
During 70 years of its existence, Pakistan has had only 37 years of democracy with 22 prime ministers including 3 years of “Presidential Rule” under an ambitious Ghulam Ishaq Khan who chose to dismiss popularly elected PMs Benazir Bhutto (1990) and Nawaz Sharif (1993). The prime ministers during its 33 years of military rule in three phases (1958-1971; 1977-1988; 1999-2008) do not count as they were holding only sinecure posts. Out of these 22 PMs, one was assassinated, 10 were dismissed by Presidents or army while two were disqualified by the apex court. Six PMs ruled less than three months and one lasted only 13 days.
Of these, Nawaz Sharif ruled for the maximum period of nearly eight years as prime minister in four phases. His second tenure in 1993 lasted only two months. Benazir Bhutto, the most popular Pakistani politician lasted only five years as PM in two phases while her father, served six years in leadership position as President (1971-73) and PM (1973-77). This indicates that Nawaz Sharif is the most resilient politician in Pakistan’s history and one who could bounce back despite facing several crises.
This is evident by the way he has survived personal or political crises: Despite rumours by his opponents about his declining health with two open heart surgeries(the latest in 2016) and a kidney stone condition this year he appears to be in good health. During the initial years he exhibited great dexterity in wresting the leadership of the Fida Group, the major faction of Zia’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML) after the general’s assassination in 1988. In 1990 he became the prime minister after garnering the leadership of religious and business conservatives by pushing a “Privatization” programme to please those who were hurt by the Bhuttovian leftist policies.
It is true that in this process he and his brother Shehbaz went too far in hobnobbing with the extremists. On April 7, 1993 Warren Christopher, then US Secretary of State had delivered an unprecedented snub to Nawaz’s emissary Nisar Ali Khan, stating that Pakistan would be designated as a “terrorist sponsoring” nation if there was no improvement. Even as late as 2010 the Western media was shocked to see the Punjab government paying huge amounts to Jamaat- ud-Dawa, a front of Lashkar.
He has been the only PM who tried to resist the military during all his tenures. In 1998 he relieved Army Chief Gen.Jehangir Karamat from his position for making statements against the civilian administration. He had serious differences with his own nominee Gen. Pervez Musharraf but his attempt to unseat him with Gen.Ziauddin Butt was clumsy and cost him dearly.
But his first successful brush in 1993 with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on the notorious 8th amendment was remarkable. This was originally brought in by the wily Zia-ul-Haq conferring arbitrary powers to the President to dismiss the National Assembly without assigning any reasons. Nawaz’s points were upheld by the Supreme Court which on May 26, 1993 decreed (10 to 1) that a government cannot be dismissed merely on inefficiency or corruption charges but only on the basis of a constitutional breakdown. This was hailed as the first successful step towards democracy in Pakistan. Sadly the same Supreme Court has unseated Nawaz Sharif now on alleged corruption, which is yet to be proved. This point is bound to make him a hero among the general public especially after his bitter foe Imran Khan has been defamed on August 2, 2017 by his own party leader Ayesha Gulalai for allegedly sending lewd texts to her.
Nawaz Sharif’s landslide victory in 1993 elections made him “the most popular and most powerful Prime minister since 1947”. His initiative in passing the 14th amendment in imposing strict discipline on the legislators was also hailed as a successful democratic step towards parliamentary democracy.
Above all, he has been the only PM who tried to resist the military during all his tenures. In 1998 he relieved Army Chief Gen.Jehangir Karamat from his position for making statements against the civilian administration. He had serious differences with his own nominee Gen. Pervez Musharraf but his attempt to unseat him with Gen.Ziauddin Butt was clumsy and cost him dearly. According to Pakistan observers he refused an extension to Gen. Raheel and also tried to resist the army from 2013 over the policies on Afghanistan and even Saudi Arabia. One report said that he even met Qatari officials which might have annoyed Saudi Arabia.
Sadly he was not helped in this by United States leadership who, according to Pakistani military scientist and political commentator Ayesha Siddiqa, considers the military in some countries “instruments of domestic stability and as partners that were depended upon for achieving US security objectives”.
[The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat and author of “Keeping India Safe-The Dilemma of Internal Security”]