FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Just when you think things couldn’t get worse for Pakistan, the country goes ahead and surprises you. Pakistan had already been put on notice by the Trump Administration that it cannot be business as usual till it acts against terror, its relations with India have reached their nadir and the International Court of Justice verdict on alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav went against it. Its economy is a shambles, local terrorist groups are flourishing, and now its democratically elected prime minister has been ousted in a judicial coup. Not that this is the first time. Since 1947, Pakistan has had as many as 18 prime ministers, with none completing their full term. Between 1958 and 1971, the office of the prime minister itself was dissolved, and not for the last time. Pakistani prime ministers have met various fates—assassination, overthrow by the army, dismissal by the president and even disqualification by the Supreme Court. In contrast, India has had 14 prime ministers in the same period and if their terms have been truncated, it has been because of parliamentary defeats.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been removed from office, this time by a fivemember bench of the country’s Supreme Court which barred him from electoral politics for at least five years. It gives him the dubious honour of being removed three times while in office—once by the president, then by the army and now by the Supreme Court. The reason? Violation of Articles 62 and 63 of Pakistan’s Constitution, which demand that members of Parliament be ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’— ‘truthful’ and ‘righteous’. The provocation? The Panama papers, the popular term for the work of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which showed illegal money laundering by Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s when he served as prime minister twice. This was followed by a court-appointed joint investigation team amassing a 275-page report on his family’s misdemeanours, which sealed his fate.
As ever, given our shared history, nothing that happens in Pakistan stays in Pakistan. For India, a civilian administration is always easier to deal with than a country under military rule. Nawaz Sharif was an early friend to the Narendra Modi government, accepting with alacrity an invitation to his swearing-in in 2014 and then being a happy host as Modi dropped in on his granddaughter’s wedding in December 2015. The attack on the Pathankot air base within a week of that visit indicated the Pakistani army’s displeasure with the incipient peace process. Things have gone downhill from there ever since, with renewed militancy in the Kashmir Valley.
The cover story this week focuses on the troubles in Pakistan, as it struggles to reform its economy, comes to terms with the ‘snakes in its own backyard’ and grapples with China’s increasing intervention in its affairs. Lahore-based independent journalist Wajahat S. Khan looks at the road ahead, as well as at Nawaz Sharif’s successor and the next potential prime minister, his brother Shahbaz Sharif. Executive Editor Sandeep Unnithan analyses the impact of this political uncertainty on India. Nawaz Sharif was seen as the peacemaker with whom Modi could do business. Pakistan’s diarchy of military power and civilian government always poses a dilemma of who India should deal with. Ideally, India should work with the duly-elected government but every time any sort of agreement is reached, it is sabotaged by the army.
What happens now that Nawaz Sharif is gone? New Delhi will possibly wait and watch till after the next general election in Pakistan, due in May 2018. It’s a grim prospect for India. With no hope for dialogue, friction on the border will continue as will the sponsoring of militants who stoke unrest in Kashmir. Even assuming elections are held as scheduled, will the person who wins the popular mandate be allowed to run the country? Perhaps, it is time for India to forget diplomatic niceties and reconcile itself to talking with the generals as well. Maybe peace can come only by engaging with those who make war.