Judicial coup in Pakistan

On the 28th of July, Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif resigned following a decision of the country’s Supreme Court to disqualify him from office. The ruling came after a probe into his family’s wealth following the 2015 Panama papers probe linking Sharif and his family to offshore companies. They have consistently denied any wrongdoings in the case but as far as the legal options go, for now, Sharif has had to step down leaving a vacuum in Pakistan.

It is clear that there is no vacuum in the governance of Pakistan because Pakistan’s peculiar record shows that the Army is the permanent executive controlling the governance of the country. The Army has assumed the role of defending Pakistan not just territorially but in every other possible aspect. It is true that Nawaz Sharif and his family occupies a place of pre-eminence in Pakistan’s politics, primarily due to their strong control over the Punjab province of Pakistan. We have to see how the family manages the two crucial factors that are responsible for political stability within the country. First, they would have to watch out for any squabbles of internal rebellion within the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Secondly, the family has to be wary of in warding off encroachers like Imran Khan (the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party) into their stronghold i.e. the Punjab province.

An interesting point to see here is the relevance of Punjab province in this political ‘House of cards’. The current National Assembly of Pakistan has more than half of its legislators coming from the Punjab province. This means that whoever controls Punjab would be controlling the country automatically. PML-N is extremely popular in Punjab because their politics is based on manipulating the law and order machinery, mega projects and old patronage. Muslim League since its formation in 1906 (pre-independent India) and even during the time of partition is a party led by one leader and notables around him. For instance, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan have both followed this trend. After Liaquat Ali’s assassination in 1951, the Muslim League splintered into seven different factions. The biggest challenge for Nawaz Sharif is to prevent further fissuring of PML-N as both the PTI of Imran Khan and the PML-Q (which broke away from PML during Musharraf era) might make tempting offers to PML-N legislators to cross over to their political parties in the upcoming General Elections of 2018.

The legal community within Pakistan and outside is divided over the judgement to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Some consider it as a flawed judgement. To support this hypothesis, we shall see the fact that Nawaz Sharif has not as yet been convicted of taking any money and all the evidence against Sharif has been sent by the Supreme Court to the National Accountability Court for trials. The criminal trial against Sharif is yet to proceed in this court. Supreme Court has concluded that Nawaz Sharif is dishonest and therefore, he has to be disqualified as per the Constitution of Pakistan (under Article 62 & 63) to be a member of National Assembly or Parliament. President Zia-ul-Haq introduced the provisions of Article 62 & 63 which calls for the Members of Parliament to be of good character, sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest, truthful and trustworthy. It is quite amusing to see if any other Constitution in the world legally specifies such qualitative qualifications for the Members of Parliament, however desirable it may seem. Supreme Court has therefore used these vague qualifications to clamp down on Nawaz Sharif, which is why many political analysts are calling it as a judgement against non-compliance of Shariah Law in the country. Strangely enough, he has been convicted not for the money received by him but for the money ‘due’ to him, to put the technical matter in layman observation. The court has observed that Nawaz Sharif failed to disclose the money ‘due’ to him, which is why he has been labelled as dishonest and disqualified subsequently. Nevertheless, the role of establishment in the judgement i.e. the ISI and Army cannot be ruled out yet. Joint Investigation Team probing the charges on Sharif family itself has a member from the intelligence community or the ISI. Apart from this, the media has been specifically targeting the Sharif family. It is significant because the Pakistani Army controls the national narrative in Pakistan through various means and mechanisms, mainstream media being one of them. An interesting point to note here is that Nawaz Sharif seems to have been cooperating effectively with the investigation because PML-N wishes to project him as a ‘political martyr’. If the PML-N succeeds in building this narrative around Nawaz Sharif, it would be good for their electoral prospects in the 2018 elections of the National Assembly.

Supreme Court of Pakistan in the judgement has mentioned that “in normal circumstances, such exercise should be conducted by the National Accountability Bureau but when its Chairman appears to be indifferent and even unwilling to perform his part, we are constrained to look elsewhere and therefore constitute a joint investigation team”. The court has observed that neither the NAB nor the Election Commissioner was willing to probe the case as they were the nominees appointed by the Government. This means that since the beginning, Nawaz Sharif has badly handled the case and tried to obfuscate, delay and circumvent this case to the point when Supreme Court took charge and ordered the investigation.

The successor to Nawaz Sharif is his brother Shahbaz Sharif (incumbent Chief Minister of Punjab), who is considered close to the Pakistani Army. In fact, whenever any trouble started brewing between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military leadership, it was Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (Interior Minister of Pakistan) who became the interlocutors of Government for mending the relationship with the Army. Apparently, Shahbaz Sharif enjoys a good reputation with the Army, so he may have ease of operations in running the civilian Government. He seems more pragmatic and qualified than his elder brother (Nawaz Sharif) in maintaining cordial relations with the military leadership.

As far as Pakistan’s relationship with India is concerned, the political class in Pakistan including the elected Government has very little role to play in formulating its relationship with India. The violation of Ufa Declaration (signed between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in July 2015) by the Pakistani Army is the recent testimony to this fact. Therefore, Pakistani Army has never permitted civilian leaders to make unilateral forays when it comes to India-Pakistan relations or any other matter affecting the security of Pakistan, including the nuclear policy. They have permanently reserved it for themselves without any possibility of negotiation over it with any civilian Government in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif tried to dissuade himself and chafe this red-line when he tried to mend ties with India during several occasions. This infuriated the military leadership in Pakistan and signals in terms of terrorist attacks on Indian soil were sent to lock the relationship from India’s side.

India has always maintained a neutral stand in the internal conflict of Pakistan. We have an experience of dealing with all previous fourteen civilian Governments (Nawaz Sharif being the fifteenth Prime Minister) who were decimated through force by the Pakistani Army in a coup, before the ending of their term. Our position is very clear that any dialogue can happen only in an atmosphere free from violence and terrorist activities. This being said, India must be keeping a close watch on future developments in Pakistan as it concerns the security and integrity of South Asia as a whole.

About the Author
A blogger, writer and reader who encapsulates diverse opinions in a dialectical manner.