Panama papers: Is Nawaz Sharif paying for choosing the wrong Pakistan Army chief?

The General Bajwa-led force is not just monitoring the raging controversy, but would also not hesitate to intervene come crisis.

 |  4-minute read |   16-07-2017
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In any well-established democracy, a prime minster facing graft charges, a determined opposition and media criticism would have dissolved the parliament and opted for an early election. He would have gambled and sought the “verdict of the people”.

But Pakistan is an exception. Its political institutions are weak and the all-powerful Pakistan army is using the remote control to stir trouble for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who is at sea after strictures were passed against him and his family members by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) appointed by the Supreme Court.

Sifting through the chain of events that have unfolded in Pakistan in the last one year and more, it is evident that the army, under General Raheel Sharif, had rescued Sharif and his government from the siege that was laid by opposition leader Imran Khan and Canadian-Pakistani cleric Maulana Quadri.

But the Pakistani military establishment is reluctant to do so under General Qamar Bajwa.

Has Nawaz Sharif, who erred in choosing the army chief in two earlier occasions when in power, made a third mistake by choosing Gen Bajwa? Only time will tell. As the crisis came to a crescendo with the announcement of the contents of the JIT report, army commanders met under Bajwa’s chairmanship and announced through its PR setup that it would guard the “national interest”.

modinawazbdreuters_0_071617022615.jpgSharif is viewed as a dove on relations with India and would like to forge friendly ties. Photo: Reuters

What that “national interest” would be from the army’s standpoint was not spelt out. But the timing of the meeting and the official announcement left nobody in doubt that the army is not just monitoring the raging controversy, but would also not hesitate to intervene, in one way or the other should the crisis go out of control — should the opposition take to the streets and if violence is resorted to.

There is more than some grain of truth in the arguments pushed by Sharif’s PML-N that the JIT is a move to oust the prime minister and his government, with one year to go for the general elections.

It is also evident that in the absence of any effective opposition emerging so far, the army would not like Sharif and his party to secure a consecutive second term. No party in Pakistan has received a second term. Indeed, only the PPP was able to complete five years in office during 2008-2013, but under a wily but weak president and three different prime ministers.

Sharif is viewed as a dove on relations with India and would like to forge friendly ties. But this is not endorsed by the army that holds him under leash as well as the religious lot who would find their constituency eroded if not rendered extinct should Pakistan-India relations improve or be normalised at some time in the near future.

Both military and the orthodox nationalists would be rendered jobless if such an eventuality ensues. It is significant that the latter are trying to take the cue from the military and have not so far taken a public stand.

The JIT has recommended that its report, which is virtually a chargesheet against business dealings of Sharif family members — daughter Maryam and sons Hussain and Hassan — be referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for further investigations.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court that had ordered and formed the JIT is to take the call on July 17. But unless it passes a clear verdict, the political crisis is bound to fester. And if it turns violent, it could give the military enough reason to intervene. Going by the available reports, it is likely that Sharif’s family made money and used that money to acquire — legally or otherwise — business interests abroad, as indicated in Panama Papers.

The moot point is that politicians everywhere make money grabbing the opportunity that office and power offer them. Sharifs, a family of businessmen and industrialists, are unlikely to be exceptions, since business would come naturally to them whether in or out of power.

It is also likely that they left some trail and indulged in concealing and/or fudging incriminatory evidence, which has surfaced now. But Nawaz was candid when he spoke to the media after appearing before the JIT— the first elected leader in Pakistan to do so — that his family had been in business and industry for three generations and what the JIT was probing allegations of graft against the family not the misuse of government funds.

What remains to be seen is whether and how far the Sharifs — the Pakistan prime minister’s family and that of his brother Shahbaz, who is chief minister of the all-powerful Punjab province — have used or misused official positions to acquire wealth as the JIT alleges they have.

Also read: Why Pakistan’s Maryam Nawaz Sharif could be undone by a font


Rajeev Sharma Rajeev Sharma @kishkindha

The writer is an independent journalist and a strategic analyst.

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