Even as disqualified premier Nawaz Sharif and his family members face a new, bitter round of legal battles on corruption charges, he appears to be on a collision course with not just the judiciary, but also the armed forces.
There is a method behind Sharif’s seemingly reckless decisions of confronting State institutions. He wants to deflect the crushing pressure of the corruption references filed by the NAB against him, his two sons – Hasan and Hussain – daughter Maryam, son-in-law Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar and old friend and father-in-law of his younger daughter Ishaq Dar, who is heading the finance ministry.
The three references filed against Sharif, his children and son-in-law are related to the flagship and 15 offshore companies, Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment, Jeddah and the four Avenfield flats in London. The fourth reference against Finance Minister Dar is related to the possession of assets beyond means.
Sharif’s multi-pronged strategy revolves around attacking, defaming and undermining the institutions, as he has been desperately trying to save his political and business empire that has been shaken to the core due to his disqualification and the revival of old corruption references.
To begin with, Sharif, his political cronies and their allied media are directly and indirectly targeting the judiciary in an attempt to make the entire judicial process and decision against him controversial. Ranging from public statements about proving his innocence in the “peoples’ court” and the “why have I been sacked?” mantra, to direct blatant attacks on the honourable judges, accusing them of harbouring an agenda against him and working at the behest of the powers that be – all are aimed at tarnishing the image of the judiciary. The Joint Investigation Team, that had investigated the Panama Case, is also the prime target of attacks by Sharif and his cohorts.
To begin with, Sharif, his political cronies and their allied media are directly and indirectly targeting the judiciary
Secondly, Sharif, who still operates as a de facto prime minister, is creating every possible obstacle to prevent fair, free and independent investigations and prosecution into the corruption charges against him and family members by using the government machinery.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, himself accused of corruption for awarding controversial contracts for the purchase of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), is acting as Sharif’s front-man along with his 50-member plus hand-picked cabinet. The law ministry and the interior ministry are spearheading the rescue mission for Sharif, while the information ministry is working overtime in its propaganda campaign to paint black as white.
Thirdly, a more sinister but indirect defamation drive has been launched by Sharif, his family members, especially his daughter Maryam, and political, business and media cronies targeting the armed forces and the security institutions. This is being done both through the traditional and the new or social media, which is being spearheaded by Maryam – Sharif’s political heir.
The few fervent, anti-army individuals in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are a part of the kitchen cabinet that is running the anti-army campaign, in the name of democracy, by which they mean perpetuating the dynastic and personalised rule of Sharif and his family.
The main theme of the campaign is that the army, as an institution, is involved in destablising democracy and Sharif’s disqualification. The campaign also blames the army for the stand-off with India, stoking trouble in Afghanistan and using Islamic militants as its proxies, which was also the theme of the so-called “Dawn Leaks.”
Fourthly, this anti-armed forces narrative, stoked by Sharif and his cohorts, gels perfectly with the aims of hostile foreign powers, which want to hurt Pakistan’s core national interests, weaken its military, defang its nuclear capabilities, force it to bury the Kashmir dispute with India and accept New Delhi’s dictates and hegemony in the region. While sitting in London, Sharif is free to work on this agenda, which he was also pursuing while in power.
The few fervent, anti-army individuals in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are a part of the kitchen cabinet that is running the anti-army campaign
Sharif’s reactionary choices are resulting in continued political instability in the country and constitute a grave threat not just to the PML-N government but also to the system. Sharif, his children, especially Maryam – who is pitching herself as the prime minister-in-waiting – are endangering national security in their burning desire to avenge his third disgraceful exit from power. A handful of PML-N leaders are supporting this confrontationist policy because they are beholden to Sharif for their politics and positions.
But does the broader swathe of PML-N’s elected representatives, leaders, activists and supporters really want to walk down the path which Sharif wants them to take? PML-N in its essence is a centre-right political party, which is more comfortable working with the civil and military establishment rather than opting for a confrontation which has all the potential to upset the apple cart. If push really comes to shove, the majority of Leaguers will go for reconciliation and saving the system which suits Pakistan. This is also a sensible course as any political party or system must not be tied to the rising and falling fortune of an individual.
The voices of dissent within the PML-N are being articulated by party veterans like Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. PML-N sources say that more than 50 PML-N members of the National Assembly have already pledged that they would not support Sharif and his daughter if they further escalate tensions. The anti-Sharif wave within the party will only become stronger if Sharif opts for a direct confrontational path.
Therefore, Sharif may not seek to increase the political temperature to an extent which would result in a split within the party ranks as has happened before. He would prefer that his party stays in power, but he continues to act like an opposition leader. But even keeping the kettle continuously on the boil could result in unintended consequences for the Sharifs and the system. The illusion he is trying to create for the world that he remains the champion of democracy and is fighting the establishment, won’t work.
Sharif may not seek to increase the political temperature to an extent which would result in a split within the party ranks
Sharif is trying to build his castle on the shifting sands of PML-N support. It is bound to collapse given that he has failed to realise and accept the fact that his disqualification is the result of corruption and not of any conspiracy. His past has come back to haunt him. His confrontational approach would only add to his woes and may shake the system. Those who are allying themselves with Sharif in his mission of revenge are only working against democracy, the system and Pakistan.