Nawaz Sharif’s ouster isn’t good news for any­one

He’s no saint, but he fu­elled hopes for a bet­ter fu­ture for Pak­istan

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - MI­HIR SHARMA Mi­hir Sharma is a Bloomberg View colum­nist. He was a colum­nist for the In­dian Ex­press and the Busi­ness Stan­dard, and he is the au­thor of “Restart: The Last Chance for the In­dian Econ­omy.”

It wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing if the army wanted Sharif out. They’ve never en­joyed easy re­la­tions.

In Pak­istan’s 70 years of ex­is­tence, not one prime min­is­ter has served a full five-year term.

They’ve been fired by gov­er­nor-gen­er­als and army chiefs and judges.

So it was al­ways fruit­less, I ex­pect, to hope that Nawaz Sharif, elected with a mas­sive man­date in 2013, would be­come the first.

And so it has proved: Sharif was “dis­qual­i­fied” — in fact, dis­missed — by Pak­istan’s Supreme Court on Fri­day. The last elected prime min­is­ter be­fore Sharif, Yousuf Raza Gi­lani, was also dis­missed by the Supreme Court, in 2012.

The head­lines will tell you that Sharif was forced out amid ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion — and that’s true, as far as it goes. Un­for­tu­nately, it doesn’t go very far.

In fact, it’s hard to es­cape the con­clu­sion that Sharif was dis­missed be­cause, as with the oth­ers, a se­cre­tive mil­i­tary “es­tab­lish­ment” de­cided to fire him. That’s bad news for Pak­istan; again, a demo­cratic man­date ap­pears to have been shown to be of no ac­count when com­pared to the wishes of the army. Nor is it good news for Pak­istan’s neigh­bours — or the West.

The Supreme Court didn’t find Sharif guilty of cor­rup­tion per se, but in­stead de­clared that he’d vi­o­lated Ar­ti­cles 62 and 63 of Pak­istan’s Con­sti­tu­tion, which de­mand that mem­bers of par­lia­ment be “sadiq” and “ameen”—“truth­ful” and “right­eous.”

The con­di­tions are usu­ally used as a way to hu­mil­i­ate and ha­rass can­di­dates; this is the first time they’ve been used to dis­qual­ify a mem­ber of par­lia­ment ret­ro­spec­tively. It doesn’t take a ge­nius to see Sharif is be­ing sin­gled out us­ing a par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous and il­lib­eral con­sti­tu­tional clause. Of course, Sharif ’s no saint. He wel­comed the ju­di­cial dis­missal of his pre­de­ces­sor, and a court-ap­pointed “joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion team” amassed a 275-page re­port on his fam­ily’s af­fairs that makes for quite fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing.

But it’s worth not­ing that the weighty ac­cu­sa­tions against Sharif date back not just to be­fore he was prime min­is­ter, but in some cases to the 1980s.

The court pushed the bur­den of proof onto Sharif, not the team it ap­pointed; even so, the dossier was as­sem­bled sus­pi­ciously quickly, in just three months.

The fact that the sup­pos­edly in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion team in­cluded two mem­bers of the Pak­istan mil­i­tary’s pow­er­ful in­tel­li­gence ser­vices may have had some­thing to do with it. It would be a brave Pak­istani bu­reau­crat in­deed who did not sign off on facts pro­vided by a man in uni­form.

It wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing if the army wanted Sharif out. They’ve never en­joyed easy re­la­tions — the last time Sharif was prime min­is­ter, he was de­posed in an mil­i­tary coup — but things re­ally went down­hill when some­one leaked de­tails of a meet­ing in which Sh ari f’ s brother had a“ver­bal con­fronta­tion” with the pow­er­ful head of Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence over the army’s sup­port to mil­i­tants.

The Pak­istani gov­ern­ment set up a com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the leak. But once the com­mit­tee fin­ished, and the prime min­is­ter is­sued an of­fi­cial no­ti­fi­ca­tion that he was sat­is­fied with its re­port, the army’s spokesper­son de­clared on Twit­ter: “The no­ti­fi­ca­tion is re­jected.”

I sup­pose it’s a bit of an ad­vance that, un­like in 1999, this con­fronta­tion hasn’t led to a coup. In­stead the ju­di­cial sys­tem has been used and the army has re­stricted it­self to ef­fec­tively sup­port­ing the op­po­si­tion leader, Im­ran Khan.

Khan poses as a demo­crat but has fa­mously claimed that Pak­ista­nis would cel­e­brate and “dis­trib­ute sweets” if the army took over again.

Sharif ’s de­feat and the tri­umph of Khan and his back­ers in the mil­i­tary is not good news for any­one. It’s bad for Pak­istan, where democ­racy seems con­stantly to strug­gle to take root; and it’s bad for In­dia.

When Sharif was elected, you could hope that, un­der him, Pak­istan would grow closer to In­dia and the West, crack down on ter­ror­ism and re­form its econ­omy. You can no longer ex­pect any of that.

Just look at the num­bers: Pak­istan ran an un­prece­dented cur­rent ac­count deficit last year, driven by a big jump in im­ports — at­trib­uted by the State Bank of Pak­istan to the cost of ma­chin­ery and ma­te­rial as­so­ci­ated with China’s in­fra­struc­ture projects in Pak­istan. How is that be­ing paid for? By record bor­row­ing, es­pe­cially from China, which loaned Pak­istan $3.9 bil­lion last year alone.

And many of th­ese Chi­nese-backed projects are be­ing car­ried out by mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tions, which will en­trench them­selves fur­ther at the cen­tre of Pak­istan’s econ­omy. No, Nawaz Sharif is no saint. But his de­par­ture is very bad news for any­one who had bet on a brighter fu­ture for Pak­istan.


Sup­port­ers of op­po­si­tion par­ties share sweets to cel­e­brate the dis­missal of Nawaz Sharif. When he was elected there were hopes Pak­istan would grow closer to In­dia and the West, crack down on ter­ror­ism and re­form its econ­omy.

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