Nawaz Sharif is on the war path, and there are no two opinions about this. His attacks on the judiciary have become more virulent with time. One public meeting after another, his refrain about his unjust ouster from the office of prime minister continues unabated.
Nawaz Sharif, supported by his equally strident daughter Maryam Nawaz, is following a simple strategy: raise enough political dust to divert public attention from his financial corruption and crime now being investigated by the courts. His desperation is growing as the court cases against him are coming close to a decision.
In his quest for power, Nawaz Sharif has been committing political blunder after blunder. When the Panama papers scandal broke last year, he had the option to resign months before the Supreme Court proceeded to disqualify him. His ouster was a foregone conclusion as he and his family failed to provide justification for money transferred abroad and concealment of their overseas assets. He got banned for life from contesting parliamentary elections.
After disqualification, he laboured under the wrong notion that there would be a countrywide uprising against the court decision. But the public response was poor in the long march he undertook from Islamabad to Lahore, despite the fact that the ruling party used all state resources to bring out people on the streets. His dire warnings that he had serious state secrets to reveal also failed to impress the powers-that-be. However, he has managed to politically survive for the time being, after having himself re-elected as the party president. Emboldened by this shrewd move, he and his party loyalists have gradually become more shrill in their attacks on the judiciary.
After showing restraint for months, the Supreme Court finally decided last week to call some PML-N leaders to account for their anti-judiciary rhetoric. The court sentenced Senator Nihal Hashmi to one-month jail term together with a Rs 50,000 fine, also disqualifying him from holding any public office for five years. It may be recalled that during the proceedings of the case against Sharif, Nihal Hashmi had crossed all limits when he hurled naked threats against the judges, the court appointed JIT members, as well as their children. While disqualifying Nihal Hashmi, the court observed: “we have felt satisfied that the contempt committed by the respondent is quite grave, and is one which is substantially detrimental to the administration of justice, besides tending to bring this court and the judges of this court into disrespect and hatred.”
Hours after the apex court sentenced Hashmi, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of “contemptuous speeches” by PML-N leader and Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry, ordering him to appear to clear his position over the tirade against the judiciary. Talal Chaudhry, who has been bitterly criticising the judiciary in TV shows and media talks, last week went a step further and urged the PML-N president to “throw out” PCO judges. Flying off at a tangent, he had said: “There was an era when the Kaabah was full of idols. Today, the judiciary, which is the country’s highest institution, is also full of PCO [Provisional Constitution Order] idols. Mian Nawaz Sharif, throw them out, throw him [CJP] out of the court . They will not give justice but will continue their injustices”.
The next in line is another PML-N firebrand Daniyal Aziz who has also been summoned by the court to explain his scurrilous attacks on the judiciary. According to legal experts, now that the court has taken cognizance of three contempt cases, it would not be surprising if the judges may also decide to go after the brain and motive force behind the contemners – Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. If this happens, Nawaz Sharif will be in real trouble. It will be a double bind for him, as the ongoing proceedings in the NAB court are also about to reach a conclusion.
Nawaz Sharif’s strategy to survive the court cases is to increase political pressure on the judiciary. But the strategy has proved counter-productive. On the one hand, he has antagonized the judiciary and on the other he is not on good terms with the army whom he obliquely blames for being behind the apex court which ousted him over the concealment of his overseas assets. At the same time, he has failed to reconcile with the defiant senior members of his divided political party, including his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif who has kept himself aloof from post-disqualification policies of the party high command.
Nawaz Sharif’s battle for political survival received a serious blow two weeks ago when an internal revolt toppled his party’s government in the politically sensitive province of Balochistan. Balochistan was the only province, besides Punjab, where Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) was in power. The removal from power of staunch Sharif loyalist Nawab Sanaullah Zehri just weeks before the important mid-term Senate elections has changed the political dynamics of the country. The Balochistan episode seems to have intensified the showdown between Nawaz Sharif and the Establishment. While the disqualified PM remains defiant, the powers that be have made it abundantly clear that he will not be allowed to return to power.
The confrontation is getting messier by the day, with Nawaz Sharif seemingly ready to go to any length to become PM again. In the end, everything will depend upon the outcome of his trial in the anti-corruption court. A conviction will seal his political fate forever.