Special Report

How Army made Nawaz Sharif redundant

How Army made Nawaz Sharif redundant

With voting in the general elections in neighbouring Pakistan being held today (July 25), there is little hope for change. Undeterred by the disqualification, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned home only to be promptly jailed along with his daughter Maryam. Despite his dismissal, the chances of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) being in the lead cannot be brushed aside. A matter of concern is that there is large participation of terror elements in the elections.

In April, the Pakistan Supreme Court barred Sharif for life from holding any public office. This was done to make him irrelevant in the electoral equation. As elections approached and potential candidates announced their decision to contest, numerous candidates were pressured to change political parties by dumping Sharif and his party.

The elections are turning out to be a drag in the prevailing circumstances. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) supremo Imran Khan managed the almost impossible task of dislodging Sharif from power when he appeared invincible. He has, however, turned out to be a major loser as the attention of both the media and the public has shifted from the issue of corruption to the “establishment’s interference in the civilian setup”.

A high court judge in Islamabad charged the all powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) with influencing judicial proceedings. The Military establishment called for an inquiry even as the PML (N) charged them with influencing the judiciary. The Pakistan Army has urged the Supreme Court to “initiate appropriate processes to ascertain the veracity of the allegations and take action”. Caught in a muddle, it is anybody’s guess if the people of Pakistan can change the situation by bringing the corrupt to book.

Having been prime minister three times, Sharif has managed to queer the pitch when it appeared nothing could stop Imran Khan, a former test cricketer from coming to power. He diverted attention from the issue of his wealth and corruption to unnamed “aliens” fighting him for unknown reasons. Sharif steered clear of naming those against him but it was no secret that he meant the “establishment”, or the omnipresent Military and the ISI. Though the latter two institutions are non-political, the military with a vice like grip has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history spread a shade over seven decades.

Considering their non-political status, the military and the ISI does not respond to allegations levelled at them. However, the ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) acts like the ministry of Information for the “establishment” by touting its achievements.

The military’s interference in political matters is nothing new and has been happening for long. Whenever matters become sticky and uncomfortable for men in uniform or is against their thinking, the so called political masters are sent packing. There is no doubt that the military along with the superior judiciary are seeking to ensure that elections go its way. This time they are in favour of Imran Khan.

Pakistan is having its eleventh general election since 1970. Apart from the first one and the last elections in 2013, the consensus among social scientists and political analysts is that none of them have been free, fair or transparent. That they were manipulated in some form or another is not in doubt. The military has been blamed for these omissions and commissions. There are enough indications that the current elections are being rigged to ensure a result that works in the interest of the military and the institutions which back its dominance.

There are at least four Islamist parties in the fray. They are contesting both for the National Assembly as well as the four Provincial Assemblies. At the same time, Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, claimed if the PML (N) is voted to power, he will make Pakistan better than India. If he fails, then the people can change his name.

The military establishment has promoted new right wing parties like the Milli Muslim League floated by the 2001 Mumbai massacre mastermind Hafiz Saeed. There is also the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan trying to cut into PML-N’s votes in its stronghold of Punjab, the key battleground. The expectations are of a hung Parliament amid numerous candidates eager to fall in line with whoever is permitted to form the government. Keen Pakistan watchers and analysts maintain enough pre-poll rigging has already taken place to ensure that the military gets its preferred prime ministerial candidate elected.

PTI’s Imran Khan is eager and desperate to be subservient to the interests and guarantees that the powerful military demands. This assumes significance in the wake of Sharif’s ban from holding any public office. One aspect that stands out is Sharif’s calculated move to return to Pakistan close to the general elections  outwitting both the military and the judiciary at their own game.

In the last general elections, the PML (N) was way ahead of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s PPP and Imran Khan’s PTI. The PML (N) with 166 seats was only six short of a majority with 32.77 per cent of the votes followed by PPP 42 seats (15.23 per cent votes) and the PTI finishing a poor third with 35 seats (16.92 per cent votes). There are 342 seats in the National Assembly and 172 is required for a majority.

T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.

— By T R Ramachandran


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