The year 2017 has passed into history, leaving a trail of bittersweet memories. It was a tumultuous year with high drama full of suspenseful moments and unexpected turns of events.
It was an eventful year on more than one count. The most dramatic development of the year was the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and his ouster as prime minister through a judicial verdict. Nawaz Sharif was accused and convicted of dishonesty by the country’s apex court in a historic case that ran for more than six months. On July 28, Supreme Court Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan announced that a five-member bench had unanimously deemed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif unfit for holding public office and also ordered an accountability court to open references against him, his family and other respondents.
The saga began with the Panama papers that hit world headlines in 2016, following which the Supreme Court of Pakistan sanctioned a joint investigation team to probe Nawaz Sharif’s unexplained enormous wealth. On New Year’s Eve Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar constituted a five-member bench to hear the Panama Papers case which ultimately led to the thrice- elected premier being disqualified on the grounds of not having disclosed a nominal salary from his son’s Dubai-based company. Nawaz Sharif’s ouster marked a signal victory for PTI chief Imran Khan who had spearheaded a year-long campaign to remove his arch-rival from office after the publication of the Panama Papers accusing Sharif of money laundering and buying costly London properties through offshore companies.
As if the Panama disaster were not enough, another stroke of bad luck for the PML-N government was the proposed amendment in the Elections Act 2017 purporting to change the nature of the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath which lawmakers are required to take before holding office. Religious parties charged that it was a deliberate act by high-ups in the PML-N and formed part of a larger conspiracy to dilute Pakistan’s Islamic identity. Subsequently, Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR), the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST) announced countrywide protests, which culminated in a prolonged sit-in at Islamabad’s busy Faizabad Interchange, where they gathered to demand the resignation of then Law Minister Zahid Hamid. The Islamabad dharna continued for three weeks before the military intervened and mediated a peaceful solution to the crisis.
A notable achievement of the year 2017 was the holding of the national census after a gap of almost two decades. The results showed that Pakistan’s population is growing at an unsustainable rate of 2.4 percent a year. Bangladesh, which separated from us in 1971, has brought its population growth rate down to merely 1.1 percent. The revision in population has also resulted in Bangladesh overtaking Pakistan in terms of per capita income and export growth. High population growth is both a cause and result of lack of development, both economic and social. It is also directly linked to lack of education, lack of healthcare and lack of empowerment for women.
The Justice Baqar Najafi report on the 2014 Model Town killings in Lahore, was finally made public on order of the Lahore High Court. The report held that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif should be held accountable for the massacre of 14 workers of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek. In the wake of the report, PPP, PTI and other opposition parties joined forces to press for the resignation of Shahbaz Sharif and his Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and a PTI delegation recently visited the Model Town residence of PAT chief Dr. Tahirul Qadri, pledging support to his protest movement to force the PML-N leaders to resign from public office.
After the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, a power struggle has been raging in the Sharif family between Maryam Nawaz on the one hand and Hamza Shahbaz, on the other. Nawaz Sharif has let it be known publicly that he wants his daughter Maryam to inherit the mantle of party leadership, while Shahbaz Sharif sees himself as the next prime minister and his son Hamza as chief minister Punjab. A clear evidence of internal differences in the party emerged when Hamza Shahbaz opted to stay out of Kulsoom Nawaz’s election campaign in Lahore’s NA-120. Maryam Nawaz single-handedly ran the campaign and managed to secure a comfortable victory for her mother in a tough contest. In a TV interview, Hamza recently admitted to political differences with his cousin and expressed the hope that he would be able bring Nawaz Sharif around to his point of view.
A major milestone of the year 2017 was the re-emergence the country’s religious parties as a political force. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the most successful alliance of religious parties in the country’s history, was formally revived in preparation for the general elections 2018. In 2002, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal had swept the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but has remained defunct for the last 10 years. It is expected to put up a tough fight in KP and Punjab in the coming elections.
Another highlight of the year was assumption of office by the former army chief, retired Gen. Raheel Sharif, as the head of a Saudi Arabia-led 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance amid criticism from within the country and also from neighbouring Iran. The development has been officially portrayed as an effort to strengthen the Muslim world struggling to combat terrorism, but Tehran thinks it is anti-Iran in its aim and composition.
As the New Year began, a thick cloud of uncertainty overhangs the national horizon. Doubts are being openly expressed whether elections will be held on schedule in 2018. There are also rumours galore about a caretaker set-up to see things through for the next one or two years.