The deadly blow to former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N in the Pakistan general elections on July 25 was not unexpected. Already forced out of office and banned for life from contesting elections, Sharif was fighting with his back to the wall for the right of a democratically elected government to rule without interference from the all-powerful Pakistani Army.
Whether it was the army, political opponents like cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan or various religious parties or a judiciary which wants to please those calling the shots, all these forces did their best to undermine Sharif’s authority when he was the prime minister.
Imran Khan had tried to pull down the government in 2014 for allegedly rigging the 2013 elections, which the Pakistan Muslim League won with a solid majority. Joining hands with a Pakistan-Canadian preacher Tahirul Qadir, the two brought in thousands of their supporters for a sit-in to shut down Islamabad till Sharif stepped down.
Sharif survived that early challenge from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). But Khan has been yapping at Sharif’s heels all through his tenure. The talk in Islamabad was that Imran Khan had the blessings of the army.
Sharif is the only politician to have taken on the Army head-on since he was removed from office on corruption charges in July last year.
While other civilian governments have been equally troubled by the army, none had dared to openly criticise the men in uniform. The army is greatly respected by ordinary Pakistanis. They draw a distinction between a corrupt civilian government and an alleged clean army.
Sharif’s fate was sealed ever since he tried to break out of the shackles placed on every civilian government in Pakistan.
Ironically, Sharif began his political career as a protégé of former military dictator Zia Ul Haq. But ever since he was thrown out in a bloodless coup by the Army Commander Pervez Musharaf in 1989, Sharif became deeply suspicious of the men who has the last word on foreign relations especially with US and India.
This is not to say that Sharif is not corrupt. Nor can it be denied that he and his immediate family, including his sons and daughter and political heir Maryam Sharif, profited from his time in power.
Corruption is rampant in South Asia. Except for a few, politicians by and large are corrupt. Benazir Bhutto’s husband and former president Asif Zardari was known as Mr 10 per cent, when his wife was the PM.
Zardari, a smooth operator, managed to nimbly manoeuvre around the army and the PPP government had the distinction of completing a full five-year term.
Benazir herself had not been as lucky. Her first term in office was cut short by the Army. Granted the politicians are corrupt, but the army is not above board. According to author and academic Ayesha Siddiqa, the Pakistan Army itself runs business establishments through its welfare foundations to the tune of $20 billion with retired army personnel and civilians as fronts.
As in India, people are fed up of corrupt politicians. So when the names of Sharif’s family members came up in the Panama Papers, it was an opportunity for those who wanted to
The Panama Papers have shown that the Sharif family had secured loans worth $13.8m loan in 2007, using the Avenfield Apartments as collateral.
“Today, the anti-corruption court’s verdict … has made it clear that these assets, the Avenfield Apartments, were acquired through corrupt means,” prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi is said to
have told reporters after the verdict.
The Avenfield Apartments are located in Park Lane, an upscale neighbourhood of London.
The sentence was pronounced in abstentia, as Sharif is away in London attending to his critically ill wife Kulsoom. Sharif, who has been disqualified from contesting the elections will now face a 10-year jail sentence when he returns to Pakistan. His daughter and political heir Maryam Nawaz is given a seven-year term.
Sharif, however, can avoid arrest and imprisonment by not returning to Pakistan. Islamabad does not have an extradition agreement with the UK. He can seek political asylum there. But so much is at stake for Sharif to give up. Having come to this point, after taking on the Army, Sharif wants to fight on.
“I promise that I will continue this struggle until Pakistanis are free of the chains that they are kept in for saying the truth,” Sharif told reporters after the verdict was announced. He said if the punishment for “demanding respect for the vote is jail, I am coming to face it”, adding that he will “not be a slave to those who violate their oath and the Constitution of Pakistan”.
Is this the end of the road for Nawaz Sharif?
In politics nothing is certain. When he was in exile in Saudi Arabia soon after the coup, no one thought he could make a comeback. He did and became the prime minister. But this time around, he lost it all.
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Many of the PML leaders are being forced to desert the party, fearing action against them by the army-backed judiciary. His brother Shehbaz Sharif is a good administrator, but not a man who can set the stage on fire.
Nawaz Sharif has been doing just that while he takes on his opponents and calls for institutions to respect democratically elected leaders. Many of his senior party colleagues, as well as brother Shebaz, had advised him to be more discreet. But Nawaz Sharif possibly wants to go down as the champion of democracy.
If the PML had won the elections, his party may still survive. But as of now, no one can say if a party in disarray.