How did Musharraf depose Nawaz Sharif? 

Hassan Abbas in his book, Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb – A story of defiance, deterrence and deviance, throws light on how Nawaz Sharif’s problems began with the military

Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images
Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images

Hassan Abbas

(Nawaz) Sharif’s problems with the military began when in early October—barely four months since the tests—army chief General Jahangir Karamat, while delivering a keynote lecture at the Naval War College in Lahore, made some slighting statements about politicians while making a case for the need for the creation of a national security council to help the government formulate security policy. The well-read and scholarly general perhaps was not impressed by the quality of discussions at the highest levels of government, and the publicity given to his comments offended the Sharif government. Pakistan now was a declared nuclear weapons state, and indeed it did need better decision-making processes. However, Sharif misread the incident as an attempt by the general to make a case for removing him from office.

Karamat was not the kind of general who harboured political ambitions, but within forty-eight hours of making the statement, he was told to pack up; army generals are not accustomed to taking orders from civilian leaders, but Karamat acquiesced out of respect for the democratic order. Many of the other generals were furious, and told themselves that Sharif would have to pay for doing this. Sharif picked Pervez Musharraf to be the next army chief. Musharraf belonged to the immigrant Urdu-speaking community and, in a military dominated by ethnic Punjabis, he was seen as potentially harmless and docile. Sharif obviously had little sense of the esprit de corps in the military rank and file.

The military’s list of grievances started piling up when Sharif opened the door to diplomacy with India and welcomed the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to Pakistan in February 1999. Vajpayee also paid a visit to the Minar-i-Pakistan, a national monument marking the site where in 1940 Pakistan’s founding fathers had resolved to work towards the goal of a separate national homeland. This visit was widely interpreted as a profound gesture reflecting India’s acceptance of the 1947 Partition and an indication that India wanted to bury the hatchet and move forward. In what came to be termed as Lahore Declaration, the two leaders expressed an agreement to ‘intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir’.

This was discomfiting for General Pervez Musharraf who, soon after taking over command of the military, began secretly planning a military incursion in the Kargil sector of the Jammu and Kashmir area (under Indian control). Sharif was not fully informed about the adventure, and when the crisis erupted he cut a sorry figure in front of the Indian leadership with whom he was engaged in back-channel diplomacy to resolve the Kashmir conflict for good. Timely intercession by America stopped India and Pakistan from plunging into a full-scale war over the issue, but Sharif’s relations with the army deteriorated considerably as a result. The political leadership of the country was again at loggerheads with the military leadership, giving birth to another period of military rule beginning in October 1999. The army had had enough of Sharif, who was caught in the middle while trying to fire another army chief. Pervez Musharraf was the new head of the state, and Sharif landed up in jail. This was of course not without precedent in Pakistan.

David Sanger, a New York Times correspondent who has written extensively on the AQ Khan network, maintains that ‘it is clear that Dr Khan’s proliferation business thrived when Pakistan’s leadership was at its weakest and most corrupt’. This brief historical review of civil–military relations and the political instability during the three critical periods of nuclear proliferation activities demonstrates that the military in Pakistan was operating quite independently of the political leadership. Secondly, political leaders had very little oversight capacity over the workings of either the military or the nuclear establishment.

Hence, the unstable state structures and persistent civil–military tensions provided an enabling environment for the nuclear proliferation activities of the AQ Khan network.

Excerpts taken with permission from Pengun India

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