Caged Lion of Pun­jab: The fall of Pak­istan for­mer PM Sharif 3 times he ruled Pak­istan, and 3 times he was de­posed

Kuwait Times - - International -

IS­LAM­ABAD: Three times he has ruled Pak­istan, and three times he has been de­posed. Now Nawaz Sharif, the “Lion of Pun­jab”, is be­ing forced to watch the tri­umph of his great ri­val Im­ran Khan from be­hind bars. Sharif, im­pris­oned since mid-July, is start­ing one of the last chap­ters of his long ca­reer from a cell, where the 68-yearold is serv­ing a 10-year sen­tence for cor­rup­tion. His daugh­ter and po­lit­i­cal heir Maryam is sim­i­larly im­pris­oned, while his wife Kul­soom is fight­ing can­cer thou­sands of miles away in Lon­don. Sharif him­self is also in frail health. And the great gam­ble he took in returning to Pak­istan days ahead of the July 25 elec­tion has failed to gal­va­nize sup­port. In­stead, Khan is set to take the oath as prime min­is­ter and usher in a “New Pak­istan” on Au­gust 18.

“Now is the time to see how his­tory re­mem­bers him,” says Muham­mad Zubair, a se­nior mem­ber of Sharif’s epony­mous Pak­istan Mus­lim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Such a sce­nario seemed un­think­able a year ago when Sharif, then a pop­u­lar prime min­is­ter hailed for his in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects, seemed to be mov­ing to­wards easy re-elec­tion. The Supreme Court shat­tered his mo­men­tum on July 28, 2017, con­tro­ver­sially de­pos­ing him fol­low­ing a cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He was banned from pol­i­tics, and fi­nally jailed just two weeks be­fore the vote.

The “Lion of Pun­jab”, named for the wealthy prov­ince which is his fam­ily strong­hold, has in­sisted that the pow­er­ful Pak­istani army-as­sisted by the ju­di­ciary-or­ches­trated his fall. Khan, who cap­tained Pak­istan to World Cup cricket vic­tory in 1992, has dis­missed the claims, as have the gen­er­als. But Sharif is not alone: ob­servers have de­scribed the cam­paign as the “dirt­i­est” in Pak­istan’s his­tory be­cause of wide­spread al­le­ga­tions of mil­i­tary in­ter­fer­ence. The op­po­si­tion is protesting against al­leged elec­toral fraud.

Sup­port­ers say Pak­ista­nis will re­mem­ber that Sharif and daugh­ter Maryam were in Lon­don with his ail­ing wife when their jail sen­tences were handed down. They chose to re­turn to Pak­istan, where they were ar­rested as soon as they landed. But the hoped-for surge of sup­port for his partyled into the cam­paign by his less charis­matic brother, Shah­baz-has not ma­te­ri­al­ized. Once ubiquitous in the me­dia, Sharif has is­sued no pub­lic state­ment in weeks. “They wanted to sell this po­lit­i­cally. But the gam­ble didn’t pay off,” an­a­lyst Fahd Hu­sain said.

Po­lit­i­cal legacy

Sharif is “be­ing pun­ished only for one rea­son, and that rea­son is that he is not bow­ing his head” to the mil­i­tary, Mushahidul­lah Khan, a for­mer PML-N min­is­ter said. Im­ran Khan, who first in­sti­gated the cor­rup­tion charges against Sharif, has told AFP the PML-N’s claims are “con­spir­acy the­o­ries” and a “smoke­screen”. The court de­ci­sion oust­ing Sharif may have been con­tro­ver­sial, but re­peated ac­cu­sa­tions over decades mean he is widely per­ceived as cor­rupt. Crit­ics dis­miss him as a leader who stole bil­lions from Pak­istan, giv­ing Khan’s vow to end graft an ex­tra edge. But Sharif’s sup­port­ers staunchly frame his ouster as part of the long bat­tle be­tween the civil­ian and mil­i­tary lead­er­ship for power in Pak­istan, whose his­tory is punc­tu­ated by coups and as­sas­si­na­tions.

“(Sharif) is fight­ing for civil­ian supremacy. If he is go­ing to jail, it is worth giv­ing that sac­ri­fice,” says the PML-N’s Zubair. Sharif has been down and out be­fore. Ex­pelled from power in 1993 on sus­pi­cion of cor­rup­tion, he won the 1997 elec­tion, only to be ousted and ex­iled af­ter a mil­i­tary coup in 1999. He re­turned in 2007, and took power once more in 2013. Zubair said he will not fight for a fourth term. Now, it is his po­lit­i­cal legacy at stake. Sav­ing that might not be up to him. “If (Im­ran Khan’s party) does well, Nawaz Sharif’s nar­ra­tive will be di­luted,” said the an­a­lyst Hu­sain.

Come­back?

The PML-N has crit­i­cized the con­di­tions of Sharif’s de­ten­tion. Sharif, who suf­fers from high blood pres­sure, was briefly hos­pi­tal­ized in late July. “He looks far bet­ter than the first time,” Zubair, who vis­its Sharif reg­u­larly, told AFP. The ex-prime min­is­ter is “not in the worst pos­si­ble cell”, and even has a tele­vi­sion with three chan­nels-state-run PTV, a weather chan­nel and a sports chan­nel. But he is in soli­tary con­fine­ment. “He is not even al­lowed to meet Maryam, other than on Sun­days,” Zubair said. His fate has di­vided once-fer­vent sup­port­ers. “Many PML-N lead­ers told him not to speak against the army and ju­di­ciary, but he didn’t lis­ten,” said Naja Nisar, an es­tate agent in Rawalpindi. Kashan Ar­shid, a for­mer party youth leader in Rawalpindi, is un­will­ing to write Sharif off. “It’s the third time he’s suf­fered. Each time ... peo­ple say he is fin­ished,” Ar­shid said. “But ev­ery time he comes back, stronger. The lion will roar again.” — AFP

IS­LAM­ABAD: Sup­port­ers of Pak­istani op­po­si­tion par­ties carry plac­ards with the pic­ture of ousted Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif out­side the elec­tion com­mis­sion of­fice against the al­leged elec­tion rig­ging in Is­lam­abad. — AFP

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