Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif | Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif | Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Text Size:
  • 20.1K
    Shares

Sharif’s imprisonment will not end his political career and will outlast the retirement of generals and colonels who plotted his downfall.

Nawaz Sharif’s decision to return to Pakistan and go to prison marks a new phase in the country’s politics. Sharif had been a creature of the establishment in the first phase of his political life and only a cautious opponent of the establishment since 1993. He has now become the first Punjabi politician to defy the predominantly Punjabi establishment in ways previously associated with leaders of Pakistan’s smaller ethnic groups.

The subject of this article is not Sharif’s flaws or merits, but the future of Pakistan’s politics. Pakistani politicians have often allowed the military-led establishment to maintain a façade of civilian democratic rule while calling most of the shots.

Sharif’s decision to accept prison instead of staying in exile shocked the establishment, which had assumed that the fear of prison would be enough to take Sharif out of politics. After all, the old Sharif had accepted the option of going into exile after being toppled from power by the 1999 military coup. That decision helped avoid prolonged confrontation and enabled the survival of General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime.

Sharif’s return this time forced the establishment to unleash repression on a large scale, ending the veneer of benign authoritarianism. Hundreds of Sharif supporters were arrested pre-emptively. His 85-year-old mother was detained. Traffic into Lahore, the capital of Punjab, was virtually shut down.

Television coverage of Sharif’s return and the planned reception was severely censored. Mobile telephone networks were interfered with to deny people access to social media. And the flight of an international airline carrying the former prime minister from Abu Dhabi to Lahore was delayed, amid efforts to divert it, to deny even the slightest visual contact between Sharif and his supporters.

For millions of Pakistan Muslim League (PML) voters, Sharif’s conviction on corruption charges is just not credible. But for many others who were not his supporters before and recognised his flaws, he is now the symbol of defiance to an arrogant and overbearing establishment.

“Who are the judges and generals to decide who will represent us? If our elected leaders are corrupt, we want the right to vote them out” seems to be the dominant sentiment that transcends feelings for Sharif or his family.

Pakistan’s failure to evolve as a democracy under the rule of law with strong institutions and its governance by a civil-military oligarchy creates an air of permanent political crisis that is likely to be heightened by Sharif’s imprisonment.

Members of the oligarchy jockey for power through intrigue, rumour and whispering campaigns. Popular politicians are kept out of the political arena or forced to make compromises that subordinate them to military officers and civil servants. Almost every Pakistani head of state and government since independence in 1947 has been imprisoned, assassinated, executed or removed from power in a military coup or a palace coup backed by the military.

In the country’s unfortunate history, governments have sometimes been voted into office but none have been voted out. The country’s generals and their offspring feel comfortable only with technocrats and civil servants who have grown up in the Government Officers’ Residences (GOR) and cantonments.

An entire class of Pakistanis resents ‘the riff-raff’ that votes and believes in ‘the national narrative’ that puts the army on a pedestal, amid many myths about Pakistan’s origins and place under the sun.

As early as 1954, General Ayub Khan wrote a memo titled ‘A short appreciation of present and future problems of Pakistan’, which laid out a top-down agenda for forging a Pakistani nation through the leadership of the existing apparatus of the state. While it lays out in detail the administrative measures necessary for making Pakistan “ a sound, solid and cohesive nation…able to play its destined role in world history”, it has no reference whatsoever to the will of the people or to political participation.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, Ayub Khan’s paradigm of considering the military as the ultimate decision-makers and the virtual raison d’être of Pakistan has persisted. Every now and then a politician has gained popularity but the military has been able to use his or her weaknesses to its advantage. Thus, ‘Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was intolerant of opposition,’ ‘Benazir Bhutto presided over a corrupt and incompetent administration,’ and ‘Nawaz Sharif is a creature of the establishment who loves the comforts of life.’ 

But after four coups and many more indirect interventions, Pakistan’s establishment is far from delivering the stability and progress it seeks to deliver through its machinations. It is unlikely to succeed this time either.

Politics is often described as the art of the possible and governance is considered a function of politics. Good governance means the art of administering the state successfully within the parameters of attainable and realistic objectives. Anyone trying to set everything right at the same time might be pursuing a dream. Such pursuits can neither be termed as practical politics nor can they be the basis of good governance.

Moreover, military officers are used to dealing with regimented minds. The troops under their command ask no questions while obeying orders. When called upon to command civilians, military men find it difficult to deal with constant debates and disagreements as well as the numerous options put forward with equal eloquence. The diversity of civilian issues is the most important characteristic of running a government. Pakistan’s soldier-rulers and their civilian dependents refuse to learn the lesson that the profession of soldiering provides insufficient training for the task of governance.

This time, the script for ‘saving Pakistan’ differed little from previous such efforts. It was expected that once the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif, his support would evaporate and his party would desert him. Then the establishment’s favorites, including former cricketer Imran Khan (who is described since his Oxford University days as ‘Im the Dim’) were expected to win an election widely seen as free and fair. Pakistan was to live the happily ever after.

But Sharif’s party did not desert him and the few locally influential leaders who did had to be coerced in manners that could not be concealed. The army and the ISI decided to deal with the media in a heavy-handed way, with specific instructions about whom to favour and whom to oppose in the election campaign. This, too, could not remain secret.

Other exertions of the military-intelligence combine on behalf of its preferred candidates included calling up candidates with vote-banks to leave the PML, Altaf Hussain’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), or the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and join the PTI or other smaller pro-establishment factions. Insolent politicians faced corruption charges and some were even disqualified while the obedient ones were protected and promised rewards.

In cantonment life, an adverse order from a superior officer ends or diminishes careers but in politics repression and persecution only engenders sympathy. Through its ham-fisted approach, the Pakistani establishment has made the public forget their complaints against Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam. Instead, the father and daughter will now be seen as symbols of defiance in an establishment that has consistently undermined Pakistan’s evolution as a democracy.

Even if the military succeeds in installing a selected prime minister into office after the votes are cast on July 25, it will not succeed in its core objective of creating a credible, effective, civilian façade. Sharif’s imprisonment will not end his (or his daughter’s) political careers long after the retirement of the generals and colonels who plotted his downfall. Soldiers should remain soldiers. Politics is more difficult than locating and liquidating enemies.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His latest book is ‘Reimagining Pakistan.

Get the PrintEssential to make sense of the day's key developments


  • 20.1K
    Shares
30 Comments Share Your Views

30 COMMENTS

  1. The author is a dubious character and no matter what he says and how logical it may sound…..it is totally unbelievable

  2. Someone should tell Hussain that Nawaz is an ethnic Kashmiri born in Punjab, married to an ethnic Kashmiri woman who was born in Punjab.

  3. William Shakespeare once said about the military that out of ten soldiers nine are fools. Someone asked the tenth one is genius. He said tenth one is a bloody fool.
    Good remarks for Nawaz Sharif must be the idea of bloody fool generals like Ayub Khan, Yahya Kham, and Musharraf.

  4. Mr Husain Haqqani is overlooking a very important point. Mr Nawaz Shareefs popular base had never been truly national. His politics was confined mainly to Central Punjab, and he could never outgrow this. He succeeded earlier because he had no competition in Punjab. This time he has been challenged by a politician and a Party which although headed by a Punjabi has more national appeal then Mr Shareef and his party. That makes all the difference. That is the reason except for a lukewarm response to his homecoming in Lahore, there was nothing of note in the rest of Pakistan. Mr Shareef has not suffered because of falling foul of the establishment. He has failed because he and his party could not extend its appeal to all over the country and truly emerge as a national leader and party.

  5. Look at the propaganda compaigns being launched at National and International levels by enemies and agents of Pakistan and Islam.Our nation specially youth must remained vigillant against such evil propaganda elements. This is the time for our Nation to remained united for Pakistan and Islam to safe our beloved country at this critical moment.InshaAllah we will emerged as one of The best Nation in The World.

  6. A traitor writes in favour of a traitor….How low u people can go for the love of ur Jewish and Hindu Masters, unbelievable.

    • Mr haqqani is paid agent working for enemies of Pakistan and anything he write must be seen as anti Pakistan propaganda.

      USA and its poodles in west have done this kind of propaganda to enslave othe nations. Consider what has happened in Libya Iraq palistine Yemen Iran Somalia Tunisia sterilants Afghanistan and next target are Pakistan and Turkey

  7. Totally lopsided article. The author seems to be oblivious of or deliberately ignored the election rigging. How can a government be elected out if the incombent government distorts the electoral mandate.

  8. Minor correction: G.O.R is for Gazetted Officers’ Residence. For the unaware readers, Mr. Haqqani started his political career with Nawaz Sharif who appointed him as the ambassador. To his credit, he has served all sides of the political divide–domestic and international. He sought his last career boost from rubbing a now retired general the wrong way..and who was stupid enough to accept the meaningless losing duel.

  9. Well well, NS is not rising at all. For me it’s an end for his his politics.

    Hussain Haqani should have done a bit of research before just writing and publishing this. People of Pakistan love its army no matter what political party they support and article like these will increase support because we know our enemies.

  10. The popular Nawaz Sharif is clearly a political prisoner. This time the generals may have bitten off more than they can chew. It may take time but the GHQ’s visibly excessive interference has brought the end of military interference into civilian affairs within sight.

  11. To me It is nothing more than an essay writing competition where kids are given the choice to write for or against your own country. Even it is permitted to use and consult the dictionary.
    Poor Hussain Haqanni choose to write against his country. May be by nature.

  12. Mr Haqqani’s pathetic attempt at glorifying his corrupt and lawfully convicted paymaster and of course fortifying his “repute” as an “analyst” by writing anti-Pakistan military pieces (read feces). Seriously… Mr Haqqani are you financially constrained or just hate Pskistan… or is it simply a matter of low IQ?

  13. What is corruption can anyone define it who is corrupt is it the entire elite of thr World , why restrict to Indian Sub continrent only.
    People need to live simply and help those less fourtunate to whatever extent they can
    Who are the elite?

  14. If establishment intended to bring imran in 2018 election And nawaz was his opponent since 1993?
    Why did not ‘HE’ hang nwaz on 1999.
    After that PPP and PMLN made gov in 2008 and 2013 respectively.
    Why would they let both parties won on last two elections??

  15. A simple case of a corrupt politician who was too arrogant for today’s world. Wish all corrupt elite across the world especially the indian subcontinent get the same treatment.

  16. Navaz will die in prison. If not he will come out as a completely defeated person. The establishment in Pakistan is just too strong and it has significant popular support. With its military and financial strength, Navaz will be a pushover. True, the legitimacy of the future Pakistani civilian authority will be weakened. But who cares? Even most Pakistanis do not seem to care. They are just blinded by their love for Alla and the Military.

  17. It is for the long suffering – for one has never believed the fairy tale that the average citizen loves the army – people of Pakistan to use their votes to strengthen democracy. 2. If the whole world, not just India, has wearied of Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror, important countries could use their influence to reduce the army’s role in national life. A dysfunctional state is also not a good setting for the success of the CPEC.

    • Please correct, “average citizen loves Pakistan army” it’s every citizen loves Pakistan army and it’s intelligence agency ISI, Pakistani people are very petriotic people only a small bunch of people who are backed by the International anti Pakistan mafia are trying to show a false image of weak democracy where as it is strong and getting stronger and mature every day passing.

      2. If you get a chance to visit Pakistan you’ll find one of the most peace loving people are living in Pakistan in harmony with lots of other religions including Hindus and Christians without mentioning Pakistan is a Muslim majority country, moreover terrorism is not exported by Pakistan in fact Pakistan is victim of terrorism coming from its neighbours around and thats the reason why we had to build the fence to protect the people and the home land, and the situation is getting better day by day, as a matter of fact terrorism is exported by weak people and nations those who feel insecure and Pakistan and people of Pakistan are very strong and that is a clear fact. CPEC is going to be a big success as it’s in safe and strong hands. Alhamdolillah.

    • The only conflict between NS and army establishment is CPEC . If NS agreed to give a big piece of cake of CPEC to army establishment. Then NS is an apple of their eyes.

    • There is a saying chor ka dost dako. Haqqani is one of the most discredited figure in Pakistani – it is scandalous that US and Indians take him seriously. He has changed his loyalties from Jamat e Islami to PML to PPP to now PMLn. If he gets paid he will write against you.
      If people are foolish enough to believe him and follow him good luck.
      Shareef and Zardari are on the run and their wealth should be repossessed and returned to poor Pakistani people.
      CPEC project was started decades back, as always Shareefs lie, they did nothing for that project except to take glory such huge projects don’t get to fruition in few years it takes decades.
      Only a fool would speculate about CPEC.
      Pakistan’s geography makes it a cash cow and every one wants to get in there. Every single Pakistani with Pak army will protect its land.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here