Removal of Nawaz Sharif and the future of Pakistan
It's an important question if the removal of Nawaz Sharif from office is just another Pakistani Prime Minister's meeting his nemesis, or it's another unceremonious removal of a head of government for all the wrong reasons and excuses! We know, since the assassination of the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, no Pakistani Prime Minister has been able to complete his or her full term in office. However, someone's stating this becomes clichéd or worn-out unless one discerns the different circumstances leading to each removal and dismissal.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan in its judgment on July 28 declared the Prime Minister unsuitable for holding his office, and also disqualified him for life from holding any elected office in the country because of his failure to remain truthful and trustworthy—a constitutional requirement—to remain in office. There were charges of corruption to the tune of several million US dollars against the PM and his immediate family members, alleged to have owned properties in Britain bought with money stolen from Pakistan. It's noteworthy, under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Pakistan, a person becomes disqualified to remain a member of the national or provincial legislatures, if he/she is not "sadiq and ameen" (truthful and trustworthy). Ironically, while military dictator Zia ul-Huq had inserted these articles into the Constitution, his protégé Nawaz Sharif later opposed its removal from it.
As a Pakistani judge has argued, as long as the said provisions were a part of the Constitution, the courts are obliged not only to decide matters in accordance with them, but are also obliged to enforce them whenever called upon to do so; and that the so-called moral provisions of Articles 62 and 63 were meant to be enforced even against those who claim to have popular support, or who have already demonstrated their popular endorsement. There's a lot more to say in support of the judgment, which was about his family members' direct involvement in money-laundering, as revealed by the Panama Papers in April 2016.
The Panama Papers revealed that three of Nawaz Sharif's children owned offshore companies and assets not shown on his family's wealth statement. They allegedly acquired foreign assets, including expensive apartments in London's Mayfair area. His daughter Maryam Nawaz claimed that she was only a trustee and her brother was the beneficial owner, and that the money to buy the properties didn't come from Pakistan. According to BBC: "To prove her point, Maryam Nawaz produced a trust deed signed by both her and her brother dated February 2006. But a British forensic expert later said the document was 'fake' or had been 'falsified' because it was typed in the Calibri font, which was not commercially available until 2007. The insinuation that the offshore companies were meant to hide or launder ill-gotten wealth or to avoid taxes called Mr Sharif's credentials into question."
So far so good! There can't be any question about the veracity of the BBC story. In the backdrop of Pakistani media reports, arguments by government lawyers, and the unanimous decision by the five judges who declared Nawaz Sharif guilty, there's also no room for any speculation about the fairness of the trial. Then again, as BBC reports, while some Pakistanis think the Supreme Court has started a process of cracking down on corruption, which augurs well for democracy, others see this as part of a long history of political manipulation through which the country's powerful military establishment has sought to control civilian decision-making. Nothing could be more prophetic than what BBC reveals about many Pakistanis, who "believe that while across-the-board action against corruption may remain a pipe dream, this verdict will open the gates of power for a new set of politicians - as has often happened in the past".
His third removal from office was neither that surprising for Sharif himself, nor for analysts, and his countrymen. First the President, then a general, and this time the judiciary showed him the door. And he remained a survivor. Some analysts believe he will bounce back. He was less than a year away from becoming the first Pakistani PM to complete a full term in office. Some other speculations are: a) his younger brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will succeed him as the next PM; b) according to a prosecution attorney, Shahbaz is going to lose his office for his involvement in the money laundering case, however, there's no ambiguity in the law that convicted the PM, that he will not be able to remain an MP, nor will be allowed to remain the chief of any political party in Pakistan.
Now, whether Sharif is politically "finished" or not isn't an important issue. What's going to happen to Pakistan is also irrelevant. Pakistanis seem to be very resilient to manmade and natural disasters. Despite losing around 50,000 people in terrorist, sectarian, and ethnic violence during the last three decades, Pakistan is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. If Pakistan would remain a stable democracy; if the Islamist-right under Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaaf, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and the Taliban would play an important role within and beyond the country, especially in India, Kashmir, and Afghanistan; if civil-military relations would deteriorate; and on what terms Pakistan would relate to the US, India, Saudi Arabia, and Iran in the coming days are the most important questions today.
One may consider the Pakistan Supreme Court's decision to dismiss PM Nawaz Sharif, and disqualify him for life to hold any elected office in Pakistan, as a "judicial putsch" or a covert military intervention, if not an overt takeover of the country, like the past. Nevertheless, one may simultaneously congratulate the judiciary for taking necessary action against the PM, for his financial irregularities. One may, however, argue that not only some rightist Islamist politicians like Imran Khan and the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan put pressure on the judiciary to take action against Nawaz Sharif for money-laundering, but one has reasons to believe the Army also played a very significant role in the outcome of the judgment.
We know, there are three dominant political forces in Pakistan: a) The Army and the ISI; b) Ultra-Rightist Islamist groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaaf ; c) Islam Pasand or Soft-on-Islam groups like the Muslim League (N) and its offshoots; d) the Liberal and "Left" parties like the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and the Awami National Party (ANP). Nawaz Sharif's removal signals the victory of the Army/ISI, Ultra-Right Islamist groups, which indirectly is the victory of Saudi Arabia and its main patron, America. Nawaz Sharif had to go as he was not fully cooperating with the Trump-led coalition of the 51 Muslim majority countries (also touted as the "Muslim NATO"), formed against Iran and Yemen, in the name of fighting terrorism.
One New York Times analyst has aptly appraised it with no ambiguity: "During his most recent tenure, Mr. Sharif had an uneven relationship with the military. His overtures of more openness toward India, Pakistan's longtime foe, backfired as generals spurned his efforts. More recently, relations with the military took a darker turn after news reports detailed how civilian officials confronted the military over what they called a failure to act against Islamist groups. Mr. Sharif had to fire his information minister and two top aides to placate the army."
In sum, Pakistani and foreign analysts know what the Panama Papers revealed about the Sharif family's corruption is nothing but the tip of the iceberg. They also know although Asif Zardari, aka "Mr Ten Percent", is a fabulously rich and corrupt politician in Pakistan, thanks to his "right connections", and pervasive corruption among the ruling elites, military, judiciary, and law-enforcers, he's a freeman. Corrupt politicians in various corruption-infested countries, including Bangladesh, have lessons to learn from the Nawaz Sharif episode. Everybody doesn't enjoy impunity forever; some pay hefty price for their misdeeds, at the end of the day.
Taj Hashmi teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). E-mail: email@example.com