Sharif in the Dock As Islamabad Moves From the US to the China Pivot
TORONTO: As has always been the case,for the past 70 years, ‘Pakistan is at the crossroads of history’ if one goes by the favourite line of the establishment’s mainstream media.
Between the lines, it means that the courts should send Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif home or in the worst case scenario … to prison.
Ever since the last dictator and former President General Pervez Musharraf reluctantly abandoned power in 2008 following hectic behind the scene activity by the British High Commissioner at that time Mark Loyall Grant and Saudi Ambassador Al Asiri, the civilian dispensations have always found themselves in the dock. This despite the fact that they always had less power than a governor general of Canada or the King of Norway for that matter. The reasons are best known to the Army GHQ because none of the Prime Ministers who were sacked, deposed or tried, had not committed the major sin of defying the army, even verbally.
During his tenure from 2008-2013, President Zardari bent over till the point where further bending was impossible Yet one of the Prime Ministers during his termYousaf Raza Gilani had to resign when he refused to write a letter to the Swiss government asking for a trial of his own President. His replacement Raja Pervez Ashraf was presenting himself in the courts every day in a corruption case till his brief tenure ended.
Zardari called himself a master of reconciliation (read capitulation) and threw himself to the ground on the slightest signal from the men in Khaki, yet being a serving president in the aftermath of the Osama Bin Laden killing in Abottabad, he had to flee the country and take refuge in a Dubai hospital for several days. Primarily because in an article for the Washington Post he praised the US forces and lauded the Pak-US joint efforts to seal the OBL deal.
Now, why politicians agree to terms laid down by the Army before they assume power is a question begging an answer that actually, has been out in the open for a long time now. They do so as they want to quickly add to their wealth while the proverbial sun shines. And why do they keep quiet when they are kicked out and still beg for power when in opposition? The answer is to conceal and digest whatever they had made during the stint.
Nawaz Sharif like his so many civilian predecessors is back in the dock. Ever since coming to power he took utmost pains not to assert himself in front of the former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif who, however, left no one in doubt about who really was in charge.
Yet the son of Indian migrant blacksmith is feeling the noose tightening on him as a five-member Supreme Court bench is looking into his sources of offshore wealth. Reason? Not his alleged corruption of course, because his money multiplied 200 times in front of the entire nation since he started his political career in 1983 under the wings of General Zia ul Haq. People who know Nawaz Sharif well say that the money in question at the Supreme Court is a ridiculous sum compared to what he actually has. He has been asked to show the money trail for a few million pounds he used to buy four apartments in London’s posh Park Lane. During the proceedings, it became clear that there was no legal money trail. The bench after hearing all parties reserved the judgment in March.
Obviously the public humiliation of the Prime Minister and hounding of Sharif by the media is a clear indication that he has fallen, once again, on the wrong side of the Pakistan Army. And this has to do with a breach of ‘national interest’ rather than buying the apartments in London in 1992. His actual crime is his desire to normalise relations with India and his invitation to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his grand daughter’s wedding at his Lahore farmhouse. Also his telephone call to PM Modi just before he was to undergo surgery in London rang alarm bells where it mattered.
Now, let’s have a look at how the impending verdict has a potential to shape the political discourse but also it can formalise a paradigm shift in country’s national security policy which is leaning more and more towards the Saudi and Chinese way. Signs were already there that the Pakistan Army is pivoting away from Washington and the west as the dollar supply line dries up, and now it will be Riyadh and Beijing where the fulcrum of national interest rests. Under the new rules it seems that a Western pedigree doesn’t fetch much while the home-grown and Eastern-bred colts will be in demand.
There is a little chance that the court will give a definitive verdict like finding the PM Sharif guilty of violating Article 62-63 of the constitution and send the case to Federal Bureau of Revenue to settle the money matters. The chances of Sharif going scot free are even slimmer. It would mean presenting the next election from Punjab to Sharif on a platter. The verdict it seems, will damage Sharif politically but will stop short of asking for any immediate legal or criminal action against the prime minister. In absence of a clean chit from the court, Sharif will be morally obliged to call new elections where Imran Khan’s PTI can deal a severe blow to politically scarred Sharif.
Sharif’s relations with Saudi Arabia are at a low at the moment. Saudis had asked PM Sharif and General Raheel Sharif to lead the coalition against Yemen. However, the army demurred and Sharif refused. So it will be interesting to see now how Saudis behave during the upcoming elections. As far as Beijing is concerned, ever since Z.A. Bhutto was hanged, they don’t place their bets on politicians. Like Washington they deal directly with the generals.
(The writer is a senior Pakistani journalist, now based in Canada)