Pakistan: Marking time


Pakistan: Marking time

Ayaz Amir

The old order as represented by the Sharifs is in its death throes. Everything points to this. When calamities as have befallen the Sharifs happen they are not empty stirrings. They are the harbingers of other and perhaps sharper consequences.

Naïve souls amongst us are saying that this is a plot against democracy…that democracy is in danger. Time was when patriotism was the last refuge of scoundrels. Today it is democracy, the last refuge. Your life can be a tale of plunder. You can have bent every corner imaginable to get where you are. But when you are called to account, as the Sharifs presently are being called to account, the wail goes up that, actually, it is not they under investigation but democracy which is under attack.

The younger Sharif—Hussain Nawaz—even begins to remember one of Pakistan’s former prime ministers, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, who faced persecution under Pakistan’s first military regime headed by the self-appointed Field Marshal, Ayub Khan, victor of battles unknown to history. Hussain Nawaz says that from Suhrawardy’s time until today politicians have faced persecution.

He thus puts himself and his father in the company not just of Suhrawardy but Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as well, which is a bit rich because if the Sharifs think of anyone as their class enemy it is Bhutto. It was Bhutto who nationalized their Ittefaq Foundry and it was as a protégé of another military dictator, Gen Ziaul Haq, who ultimately hanged Bhutto, that the Sharifs began their political journey. Today therefore if Hussain Nawaz is putting himself and his family in the ranks of the politically persecuted the irony would not be lost on anyone.

No one is conspiring against the Sharifs. If this accusation was made when Gen Raheel Sharif was army chief there might have been some logic to it, given the distrust between the Sharifs and Gen Raheel, the Sharifs feeling overshadowed by the general. There was also the memory of the dharnas when the Sharifs felt that a section of the army command, including the then head of the ISI, was conspiring to bring about their ouster. But in relation to Gen Qamar Bajwa, the new army chief, this is a hollow accusation. If anything, Gen Bajwa had to put up with social media vitriol for letting the Sharifs off the hook in the matter of the Dawn leaks. So pointing the finger at him makes no sense.

As if this was not enough, farfetched theories are being voiced about the higher judiciary being out to get the Sharifs. What’s the animus between the judiciary and the Sharifs? It was but recently that the judicial leadership—I can be no more specific than this—was accused of a pro-Sharif bias. Now there is this sudden turnaround with quarters sympathetic to the Sharifs insinuating that the higher judiciary harbours some kind of hostility towards them. The deeper the Sharifs sink into this quagmire the more bizarre the conspiracy theories.

The accepted wisdom only a short while ago was that the Sharifs had taken care of every eventuality and there was nothing to stop them from sweeping the coming elections. The argument went that the judiciary was on their side and there was a friendly chief in General Headquarters, or at least a chief who was different from Gen Raheel…someone without his penchant for being always in the news.

The Joint Investigation Team had only to begin working and those assumptions taken for granted by large sections of the chattering classes seem to have flown out of the window. Sharif sympathizers in the media, and there is no shortage of them there, are whispering darkly of a double conspiracy, against the Sharifs and against democracy.

Democracy and the Sharifs now stand equated…the one is a synonym of the other. This is happening for the second time. When Nawaz Sharif was overthrown by Gen Musharraf and put him in prison, he who had begun his political career under the wings of a military dictator was transformed suddenly into a champion and symbol of democracy.

In exile his Saudi hosts kept him in all possible comfort, a palace set aside for his residence. Meals would be an elaborate affair and in the evenings after Maghrib prayers it would be someone’s duty to read aloud articles and news from the Pakistani press critical of the military regime and favourable to the Sharifs. (Self-reading has never been a Sharif weakness.) But the Sharifs pined for the freedom of the sinful west. Shehbaz Sharif was the first to break loose. He said he had a back problem for which it was essential he go to New York.

It was a Chakwali, a great friend of Gen Musharraf’s, retired Brigadier Niaz Ahmed, who interceded on behalf of the Sharifs and got permission for Shehbaz Sharif to leave for New York. Later he was instrumental in getting permission for Nawaz Sharif to leave for London. The passports of the Sharif family were with the Pakistan mission in Riyadh. It was through Brigadier Niaz that the Sharifs got back their passports.

When Nawaz Sharif flew off to London where did he take up residence? In the same flats whose ownership is being investigated by the JIT.

No, the army and judiciary charge does not fit. More than half the media is in their pockets, so we can rule out the media as well. It is the Sharif past catching up with them, and that’s all the conspiracy there is…the chickens coming home to roost, at last. If there is any script to this self-inflicted conspiracy it has been written by the Sharifs themselves. It is their bad luck that the Panama leaks had to take place. Otherwise, this scandal would never have raised its head and there would have been no case before the Supreme Court.

Yes, if there is an outside agency involved in the airing of this scandal and not letting it die in Pakistan it is in the shape of one man, Imran Khan. He kept at it and then moved the Supreme Court…which is when things began to happen. They happened slowly, very slowly, but when finally the Supreme Court took up the matter, the emperor was seen to be without his clothes…because he had nothing with which to counter the charges contained in the Panama papers: no money trail, no documents, not a shred of what could be called credible evidence.
In the end all the family could do was come up with a story contained in two letters provided by a Qatari prince. Far from laying doubts to rest, those letters have ignited skepticism and laughter. So where is the conspiracy? Has some outside agency been shaping these events? Is there a dark hand involved? Is the army or ISI up to some trick?

The Sharifs have got away with so much but now they are enmeshed in something from which there seems to be no easy escape. But the toll is beginning to tell. Pakistan is at a standstill, stuck at the same spot marking time. This drama better end soon if we are to return to normal government.