FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 04

The struggle for political survival

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made his intensions clear after return from London. He has declared an open war on the judiciary and the establishment. He thinks it is the only way he can save his politics. However, he fails to understand he is fighting a losing battle. It will not only create more trouble for him and his family but pave the way for the disintegration of the ruling party.


According to analysts, Nawaz Sharif had carefully planned his future strategy during his stay in London, where he summoned his aides for deliberation. It is said Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif advised him against clashing with national institutions and he also barred Punjab ministers form issuing statements against the judiciary and the army. Former Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan is also against the confrontation. However, ministers in the Maryam Nawaz camp want a fight and the ousted prime minister is influenced by them. The judiciary and the army are silent. But it does not mean they are weak. Both are exercising restraint. The court can ban the live coverage of his speeches and try him for contempt, besides corruption and the money laundering cases. The army is not interested in domestic politics, but if Nawaz Sharif continued his criticism, people in his own party will turn against him and form groups or join other parties, because they know Nawaz has no future if he continues to tread such a path.


It is said over 50 MNAs of the ruling party held a meeting to decide about their future after Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the court. The number has risen to 140 after the ousted prime minister chose to adopt a confrontation policy towards the national institutions. They are silent for the time-being. However, they will not remain silent for long. Seeing the former prime minister and his family in jail or escape abroad in the wake of corruption cases, they will leave the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). In fact, fissures had started widening in the ruling party after the Supreme Court of Pakistan launched investigations against the Sharif family over the Panama leaks. Scores of party legislators believed the prime minister should have stepped down to save democracy. A debate, which continued in the party for months, came out in the open. It is said 64 MNAs of the ruling party contacted the establishment recently for guidance, but they were informed to make their own decision. Even if the establishment keeps itself aloof, panic among them is growing as they believe the party cannot survive by harsh criticism of national institutions, without any justification.


The PML-N will disintegrate if Nawaz Sharif is jailed. Even his absence from the country will damage his party. Last year, differences among top leaders of the party had intensified when Nawaz Sharif was recovering after his heart surgery in London. In his absence, the then Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan developed problems with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as the former thought he was the senior-most member of the cabinet, therefore, it was his right to look after the affairs of the state in his absence. Nawaz Sharif, however, entrusted Dar with that task. The former interior minister was unhappy because Ishaq Dar and Maryam Nawaz worked as the former prime minister’s deputies and did not bother to consult him on any issue. In those days, former Defence Minister Khawaja Asif was very close to Dar while Khawaja Asif and Nisar Ali Khan have an old enmity and publicly admit their dislike of each other. In the absence of Nawaz, around 70 of the party MNAs staged a silent rebellion against the acting prime minister Ishaq Dar for what they called his “arrogant and rude behaviour” towards them. They also boycotted his budget speech.


It is said Nawaz Sharif is working on three options to save his skin. He wants exemption from court appearances on the pretext that he wants to be with his ailing wife in London. If granted, he can leave Pakistan and delay court proceedings against him on one pretext or another. It will also serve his purpose to gain the sympathies of the people of Pakistan. He is also in search of a luxury house in Islamabad, which could be declared a sub-jail, where he could live after being sentenced. He is also considering a plan to become the president of Pakistan to seek immunity from cases against him.


The former prime minister has launched a calculated campaign against national institutions. His only aim is to put pressure on the Supreme Court of Pakistan, so that it provides relief to him. Another objective of his movement is to put pressure on accountability courts. He is targeting the establishment, so that it could negotiate a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)-like situation for him. However, he fails to understand that times have changed. The NRO was negotiated by international forces to pave the way for Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. At the time, Imran was not as popular as he is now. He would have foiled the arrangement if he was as strong as he is today. In his presence, no NRO-like relief is possible, even if the establishment agrees to it on international pressure.


As Nawaz Sharif has intensified his tirade, rumours are rife in the country that the next six months will be difficult for corrupt politicians and current and former bureaucrats. According to some, the process of accountability will continue under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, as it has received enough material against hundreds of people through the joint investigation team (JIT). There is also speculation that the election will be delayed for strict accountability. Some say a technocrat government will be set up to oversee the cleansing of the system. Others say the presidential system will be enforced for the purpose. There are still some people who say the army can intervene to purge the system of corruption as the current setup lacks the ability to cleanse itself.