Is Nawaz Sharif being made an example like Bhutto?

Is the Pakistani Prime Minister again paying the price for his peace overtures to India? Declared unfit for being named in Panama Papers, is he being made a scapegoat by the army?

Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Zafar Agha

Pakistan met with a coup early this morning. It was not a military coup as the Islamic state of Pakistan would have normally expected. Instead, it was a judicial coup. The victim no less than Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been declared ‘’unfit to hold the office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan’’ in a unanimous five judge bench decision by the Supreme Court of the country.

The reason for Sharif’s ouster is his name figuring in Panama papers for alleged corruption. But be sure corruption is an excuse to get Sharif out of office. But what else could be Sharif’s crime? Nawaz Sharif is essentially guilty of attempting to befriend Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi despite the Pakistan military establishment being opposed to it.

Pakistan army establishment’s cardinal principle is continuing hostility with India. There could be no Pakistan if the two neighbours, India and Pakistan, are not at war or at least in a state of cold war with each other. This is the Pakistan army establishment’s security doctrine which is considered the cardinal principle of the Pakistani establishment. Any politician defying it has to face punishment.

And, it is inherent in the way Pakistan was carved in 1947. Founder of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s basic argument for Partition was that there was no scope of any progress for Indian Muslims in a Hindu majority independent India. So, the Indian sub-continent must be divided to carve out a Muslim majority state. Thus, came into being the new Muslim majority state called Pakistan based on hatred for ‘Hindu India’.

Pakistan was thus created on the premise of permanent enmity with Hindu India. So, once the army establishment took control of Pakistan, its survival hinged on permanent hostility with India. Simply because it could be the only justification for the army to continue calling shots within Pakistan.

Any civilian politician daring to change this basic security doctrine of Pakistan is made to pay a price. Nawaz Sharif did it with his unconventional move to first personally attend Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony in May 2014 and then he followed it up by inviting Modi to Lahore on his birthday and attend wedding ceremonies of his granddaughter the very next year.

Pakistan army was not only upset but was clearly angry with Sharif’s peace overtures to India. It first ensured that peace moves between Indian and Pakistani prime ministers are aborted. Pathankot air base attack by Pakistani militants and whipping up anti-India passions inside Kashmir was part of this plan. The purpose was to force Modi’s hands not to pursue peace with Pakistan. Naturally, India had to abandon peace overtures to its western neighbour.

But Pakistan army was still not satisfied. Because its mission was half done. It wanted to punish Nawaz Sharif and make him a horrible example for the future civilian rulers in the country. The army was looking for an excuse to hang Sharif. And, they got it in Panama papers where Nawaz Sharif and his family members were named along with hundreds of others across the globe for alleged money laundering.

It turned out to be godsend for the Pak army. First, naturally at the army establishment’s bidding, Imran Khan organised massive demonstrations paralysing Islamabad and in turn the Sharif government’s functioning. Then in a planned move the Supreme Court was moved, which finally obliged the army and sacked Nawaz Sharif.

So, another Pakistan civilian government has fallen victim to the army establishment’s machinations. The phenomenon is not new to Pakistan. Even Nawaz Sharif has himself met the same fate earlier. He was deposed by the then army Chief Parvez Musharraf for inviting Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for peace talks to Lahore.

The Pak army struck and arrested Sharif who was put behind bars with threats of being hanged in a fake case like late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a popular civilian prime minister during 1970s whose mass popularity was threatening the army establishment in the long run. He was deposed in a military coup by the then army chief Zia ul Haq, who got Bhutto hanged on a trumped-up murder case.

Pakistan Supreme Court at that point of time also obliged Gen Zia ul Haq and Bhutto was hanged in 1979. Supreme Court of Pakistan has always stood by the army establishment in any confrontation between Pakistan democratic forces and its army. The country’s judiciary is the second most important element of Pakistani establishment and always plays ball with the army.

Nawaz Sharif is the latest victim of the Pakistan’s army and the judiciary. His crime, as stated, is nothing but attempting peace with India. One has to wait and watch whether he is made a horrible example like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto or he is given a chance to go abroad as he was when he was first deposed by Musharraf.

Whichever way the dice may turn, time will tell. But Nawaz Sharif’s political fate seems to be sealed once for all. Pakistan army excused him once when he flung open the country’s doors for Vajpayee. The army will not pardon Sharif a second time for daring to befriend Modi. The judiciary will oblige the army as it has done in so many cases earlier.

The only course left open to watch is whether Nawaz Sharif survives physically or he, too, follows into Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s footsteps.

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