Another NRO in the offing?
Whether the year 2017 was ‘annus horribilis’ for Pakistan is a moot point. But certainly, for the disqualified for life ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif it was a terrible year.
Higher judiciary in the past had never distinguished itself for qualities like independence and fearlessness. It legitimized military dictators who trampled over virtually every civilian government under their jackboots.
So, it was perhaps a first in Pakistan’s chequered political history that that an elected prime minister was booted out on charges of corruption and disqualified for life to hold public office by the higher judiciary. On July 28 the Supreme Court through a unanimous verdict disqualified Sharif for not being Sadiq and Ameen (pious and truthful) under the dubious articles 62 and 63 of the constitution inserted by the late dictator General Zia-ul-Haq to keep elected politicians in check.
Sharif and his progenies could not explain the fount of their enormous wealth through which they had purchased expensive properties in London in the Panamagate trial. The unkindest cut for Sharif was the apex court in its verdict comparing him to a Don of the Sicilian Mafia.
The younger Sharif’s sudden dash to Saudi Arabia on an official plane sent by the Saudi king is ominous while the media was allowed to cover his boarding the plane giving prime ministerial looks.
Despite Sharif and his various spokesmen’s version that the courts in cahoots with the military have victimized him, there are few takers even in his own party. Even Shahbaz Sharif his younger brother, has not endorsed this narrative.
However only in the unlikely possibility of the push coming to shove the courts newly found independence would be put to a litmus test. During the year the freshly minted military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa strengthened his hold not only on professional matters of the military but also its grip on foreign and security policies became more pronounced.
General Bajwa was Sharif’s own choice. He did not even consult his brother on the matter. Nonetheless perfectly cordial relations soured over the implementation of the Dawngate commission report. Dawn leaks was a bogey (some claim), raised by general Bajwa’s predecessor general Raheel Sharif for his own extension of term of office.
The original recommendations of the Commission headed by Justice (retd) Amir Raza Khan suggested initiating proceedings against the leakers under the Official Secrets Act. This would have resulted in a divisive trial of some of the core member of the Sharif team named in the probe.
However, the military leadership only demanded from Sharif that those declared guilty should be relieved of their respective offices. But here also the prime minister procrastinated. His principal secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad without the knowledge of the interior minister Nisar Ali Khan leaked a much-watered down version of the original findings.
The Director General ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) Major Heneral Asif Ghafoor amplifying the anger of the military leadership tweeted in protest that this was unacceptable and hence rejected.
Thus, on Sharif’s page, the lowest point in civ-mil relations was reached. However, the military chief acting magnanimously ordered his PR man to withdraw the offending tweet.
Theoretically speaking the matter should have ended there. But the military leadership and even some of the officers’ corps termed it as a deliberate humiliation of the army. Thereafter relations were inexorably damaged.
Post his disqualification Sharif is stomping the campaign trail with the slogan: mujhay kyun nikaala (why was I ousted). His hard-hitting anti-establishment narrative is buttressed and intensified by his bright and charismatic daughter Maryam Nawaz.
She proved her political savviness by winning the NA-120 National Assembly by-election after the seat was vacated by Sharif as a result of his disqualification. Her ailing mother Kalsoom Nawaz under treatment for cancer in London was the official candidate. But practically speaking, her daughter fought the by-election singlehandedly.
Apart from still being regarded as a political novice she is-perhaps somewhat unfairly-perceived as a hardliner consort of her father. Sharif a consummate political combatant himself who has been prime minister thrice is unlikely to be wagged by the tail. It is in fact his own highly bloated political ego that has destroyed him.
It will be indeed unfortunate if the father passes on the same malaise to his heir apparent daughter. For the time being Maryam is under serious threat of being disqualified, facing various NAB references.
In this backdrop Shahbaz Sharif has emerged as the only choice for the PML-N candidate for premiership in the next election. He is also the Manchurian candidate of the military.
The younger Sharif’s sudden dash to Saudi Arabia on an official plane sent by the Saudi king is ominous. The media was allowed to cover his boarding the plane giving prime ministerial looks.
The elder Sharif has also joined his brother in the Saudi capital. The Kingdom rulers were not too happy in the manner the former prime minister procrastinated over the issue of Pakistan committing itself to the Saudi military adventure in Yemen to crush the Houthi rebels.
But on the other, the ruling Royal family prefers the Sharifs to the rest of Pakistani rulers. In return for Saudi assistance and providing oil on differed payment they will demand their pound of flesh from the Pakistani establishment.
It is unfortunate to see that yet again Saudi Arabia is being approached by the civilian leadership to meddle in issues that are essentially of an internal nature and should be dealt with as such. Is the situation really that unsalvageable or simply a matter of sheer incompetence?
The elder Sharif is unlikely to be entirely forgiven. But in order for him to wholeheartedly endorse his brother a Modus vivendi will have to be evolved that the NAB goes slow on him and his family. In return Sharif will be asked to desist from attacking the army and the higher judiciary for his travails.
It is quite apparent now that Shahbaz Sharif is all set to be the PML-N’s prime ministerial candidate. But in order to be prime minister, a major glitch is that the PML-N has to bag enough seats in the coming general elections to form a government. Right now, there seems a lot slip between the cup and the lip.
The Sharif brothers visiting the Saudi capital with a begging bowl in hand belies claims that the economy has done well under them.
The year saw puncturing of the myth of disgraced former finance minister Ishaq Dar so assiduously created by him and his henchmen. Sharif admits the downturn in the economy. But blames it on his ouster, despite the present PML-N team from the prime minister downwards being his handpicked.
Of course, the PML-N government can boast of some successes on the counter-terrorism front, to the extent that it provided the military an enabling environment.
Nonetheless the year saw the US under president Donald Trump putting an incremental pressure on Islamabad to do more. Our policymakers are not ruling out the prospect of a direct US intervention to target terrorists allegedly holed up in our badlands. Externally speaking these are dangerous times for Pakistan.
Another challenge to the writ of the state is the hydra headed monster of extremism raising its head with a new fervour. The recent Faizabad dharna on the outskirts of Islamabad by the so-called Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) speaks volumes about of the government’s resolve or rather lack of it.
All said and done the year 2017, was a ‘year of living dangerously’ for Pakistan.