Exit Nawaz Sharif, ad nauseam

A miffed army and divided party indicate that Pakistan’s three-time PM is set for a long exile.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Published: September 30, 2017 12:04 am
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The Supreme Court of Pakistan, after much murky controversy, got rid of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in July saying he was not “sadiq” and “ameen” — two qualities of the Holy Prophet PBUH spelled out in the constitution as a legacy of the islamising General Zia ul Haq and his decade of military rule. Sharif went home chanting “why was I thrown out?” and vacated the National Assembly seat at NA120 in Lahore. Pakistan’s perennial political instability had borne its latest fruit. Exit another PM, ad nauseam.

The next trial for him was the NA120 by-election in September. Will the powers-that-be make his party lose it to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf? Or will the people of Lahore remain firm in their loyalty to him? Also, who should replace him as the next Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) contestant? One obvious choice was his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the longest-serving chief minister of the most populous province, Punjab. He announced Shahbaz’s candidature but soon announced that his wife Kulsoom would contest instead.

Not only that, the next leader of the PMLN was chosen from Balochistan, an unknown person who would mean nothing to the party’s millions. Why did Nawaz dump brother Shahbaz? Some say the party had started cracking under the strain of a long battle with the army. A clear sign of that was the rebellion of ex-interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, with old army contacts: His brother Iftikhar Ali Khan was an important general who formed the party’s nexus with the GHQ. Khan came on TV to air his differences with Nawaz as well as send signals to you-know-where. He was also close to Shahbaz whom the generals always liked better than Nawaz. Once, General Musharraf offered to push Nawaz aside and make him PM instead. So, had the party split between Nawaz-Shahbaz?

Another version was that it was Shahbaz who begged off because he was signalled that a bigger change was in the offing. Actually, Shahbaz too might have to spend the rest of his life abroad as another case — of having shot 14 protesting members of Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Canada-based cleric Tahirul Qadri in Lahore — might come up sooner rather than later at the Lahore High Court.

The NA120 by-election in Lahore was not worked on by the chief minister, who kept touring abroad, and his son — embedded in Lahore party politics — also ducked out of Pakistan, leaving Nawaz’s daughter Maryam Nawaz to run the campaign, constantly dropping hints that you-know-who had toppled Nawaz once again. She bagged the seat for her mother but not without weird occurrences like party leaders being “disappeared” on the eve of polls intervening. There were over 40 other candidates who divided the votebank, and two violent religious parties took off their warpaint and participated as political parties while their candidates appeared as “independents”. One of them was Milli Muslim League (MML) of globally known terrorist Hafiz Saeed who wanted his various outfits to be “mainstreamed” in order to dodge the UN label of terrorist. Surprisingly, MML was able to score better than the PPP, Pakistan’s only truly national party.

The TV channels were divided down the middle and those siding with Nawaz were slowly losing their mojo. The anti-Nawaz channels were led by Bol TV, whose parent company Axact was let off the hook for selling false degrees all over the world after the prosecutor at the trial it faced was shot at, as revealed by senior journalist Mujibur Rehman Shami in a talkshow. The lower-court judge, who let Axact walk away with billions, has already admitted in the Islamabad High Court that he had taken bribe to acquit the company. Almost all the political parties also want the PMLN to bite the dust and Sharif to get his comeuppance. Meanwhile, the economy, under siege from a carefully nurtured “street power” over four years, is belly-up.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — safely the son of a senior air force officer and son-in-law of a general who headed the ISI — is minding the store and mending fences where they need to be mended. Meanhwile, more corruption cases are being opened — some dug up from the past — to signal the end of the Nawaz era and his three-times interrupted tenure because he looked too friendly to India and wouldn’t help “mainstream” the proxy warriors. His exile this time may be longer than the last one in Saudi Arabia.

The people are gravitating to the proxy warriors. A spook-supported Bol TV anchor and model Hamza Abbasi caused a stir when he praised the “terror-watch” suspect in his tweets: “US/India say he is a terrorist; I know Hafiz Saeed as a righteous man. Hafiz Saeed has done great work against takfeer & sectarianism, social work for non-Muslims of Pakistan & is a mentor (sic!) to Kashmiris”.

Meanwhile, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was telling the parliamentarians in Islamabad that he was an ardent supporter of democracy and believed in the supremacy of parliament.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek’ Pakistan.

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