Since the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court, national politics has been in a state of turmoil. A settled, seemingly strong political order has been shaken to its roots, while the new one is yet to find its feet. Nawaz Sharif and his protégés, Imran Khan, Asif Zardari and other political players are doing their utmost to make confusion worse confounded.
Much of the confusion and uncertainty has to do with the truculence Nawaz Sharif has shown since his dethronement from the seat of power. He has been defiant and strident, leaving no one in doubt that he has not accepted the Supreme Court from the core of his heart and trying to find ways to minimize the impact of his loss of power and keep his political charisma alive.
In his GT Road show, Nawaz Sharif repeatedly questioned his ouster. He bitterly targeted the SC judgment, raised questions on the neutrality of the court, and claimed his disqualification was pre-planned. He also accused invisible forces (Read: the Establishment) have been undermining the constitution and civilian rule. Time and again, he referred to Pakistan’s 70-year history and pointed out that no prime minister was allowed to complete his term while the military rulers had enjoyed prolonged tenures. He lamented how the people’s mandate has been violated, hammering on again and again that the masses voted him into power but “a few men” ousted him from the PM’s office.
Nawaz Sharif now seems to be working on a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, he is trying to make the judiciary controversial and questioning its neutrality and the fairness of the five-judges bench’s decision to disqualify him. And on the other, he is playing on the political pitch.
But while playing politics with the judiciary, Nawaz Sharif forgets that he was brought to book on account of gross financial irregularities and accumulating assets beyond his known means of income. The most important point in the whole episode is that the writ of law prevailed irrespective of the powerful position of the man in the dock. This constitutes a significant step forward in our evolution as a mature democracy. A healthy precedent has been set. In future the historic SC judgment will act as a deterrent against powerful men transgressing the limits of their power and playing with the nations’s fortunes.
A very important aspect of the new political development is the fact that the prevalent political order has survived and withstood the shock of the fall from grace of a sitting prime minister. Nawaz Sharif is no more, but the system is intact. Parliament, the courts, government and all other organs of the State are functioning normally.
Now engaged in a grim struggle for political survival, Nawaz Sharif faces two new challenges. A war of succession seems to have started within the family. Younger brother Shabaz Sharif has been cheated of both the prime ministership as well as the chairmanship of the party. His son Hamza Shahbaz has also been sidelined in the electoral battle ahead in the by-election for NA 120. The simmering family feud has raised questions about the future of the House of Sharif which has dominated national politics for more than three decades.
At the same time, there are unmistakable signs of a widening gulf between two factions of the PML-N in which Chaudhry Nisar has emerged as the leading player. He is openly challenging the circle of courtiers around Nawaz Sharif who he says have misguided him from the beginning and landed him in the mess he now finds himself in. There are unconfirmed reports of a strong forward bloc emerging in the party, and a number of MPs weighing their options to seek new pastures.
Nawaz Sharif’s statements over the last two weeks show that he is gearing up for a confrontation with state institutions. But this will prove to be his ultimate undoing. Not because the Establishment is all powerful, but because this will leave him vulnerable to attacks by his political opponents who will target him for his anti-Pakistan statements like his references to the dismemberment of the country in 1971. On the proposal to hold a grand national dialogue, Asif Zardari has already snubbed him, while religious parties have threatened to launch an agitation if the ruling party moves to amend Articles 62, 63.
The ouster of Nawaz Sharif has once again brought the issue of civil-military relations into focus. In this context, two version of the history of democratic evolution in the country are presented. While several times in the past, invisible forces destabilized the elected governments, it is also true that civilian rulers indulged in corrupt practices and failed to deliver the fruits of democracy to the people. Thus, the popular mandate was violated in either case. Against this background, some analysts have underlined the need for an open debate to redefine and recalibrate the power of various state institutions in order to put Pakistan’s fragile democracy on a strong footing.