Panama Pa­pers: Con­tro­versy be­hind oust­ing of Sharif

The an­swer may lie in Pak­istan’s sus­tained his­tory of strug­gle for supremacy be­tween the mil­i­tary and the po­lit­i­cal class

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif’s re­moval from power may have come as a shock to many Pak­ista­nis, but they are by now quite adept at han­dling such chaos.

Be­tween 1947, when the coun­try won in­de­pen­dence, and Sharif’s oust­ing on Fri­day, Pak­istan has had 18 civil­ian prime min­is­ters.

All have been forced out pre­ma­turely.

This is Sharif’s third re­moval from of­fice, and things do not ap­pear any worse for him now than in 1999 when he was top­pled in a mil­i­tary coup.

Back then, he was briefly im­pris­oned and then sent off into ex­ile to Saudi Ara­bia.

This time the axe was wielded by the Supreme Court be­cause he failed to de­clare ‘his un-with­drawn re­ceiv­ables’ from a UAEbased com­pany, Cap­i­tal FZE, as re­quired un­der elec­tion rules.

Sharif has said his po­si­tion as chair­man of the com­pany was an honorary one, re­ceiv­ing no salary or ben­e­fits, and that he agreed to keep the po­si­tion be­cause it made it eas­ier to ob­tain a UAE visa as and when it was re­quired.

Many be­lieve, how­ever, that is not rea­son enough to re­move an elected prime min­is­ter.

Vet­eran jour­nal­ist, Im­tiaz Alam, likened it to ‘the theft of a goat’ - a ref­er­ence to a ruse used by the coun­try’s es­tab­lish­ment back in 1948 to sack a provin­cial chief min­is­ter.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, Cap­i­tal FZE is not linked to the Sharif fam­ily’s off­shore com­pa­nies or their Lon­don prop­erty - mat­ters which were at the cen­tre of the Supreme Court’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The mat­ter of his in­volve­ment in those com­pa­nies and prop­er­ties, which were orig­i­nally re­vealed by the In­ter­na­tional Con­sor­tium of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ists (ICIJ) in its Panama Pa­pers leaks last year, has been sent for a sep­a­rate trial by a spe­cial anti-cor­rup­tion court.

Ear­lier, the Supreme Court hear­ings were marred by con­tro­versy on sev­eral counts.

It was said that the case be­longed in a crim­i­nal court, and the Supreme Court, which is an ap­pel­late body, ini­tially re­fused to hear it. But then the court not only ad­mit­ted the pe­ti­tion for hear­ing, it also took the un­usual step of in­sti­tut­ing its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case, with a dom­i­nant role for the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

Why has this hap­pened to Sharif?

The an­swer may lie in Pak­istan’s sus­tained his­tory of strug­gle for supremacy be­tween the mil­i­tary and the po­lit­i­cal class.

Soon after in­de­pen­dence in 1947, the gov­ern­ment un­der the watch of the coun­try’s founder, Mo­ham­mad

Ali Jin­nah, sacked two provin­cial gov­ern­ments - both elected in the

1946 elec- tions in un­di­vided In­dia - thus set­ting the tone for things to come.

Be­tween 1951 and 1958, the com­bined mil­i­tary-civil bu­reau­cratic es­tab­lish­ment sacked as many as six prime min­is­ters one after the other. The era cul­mi­nated in the first mil­i­tary coup.

Pak­istan’s first ever elec­tion was held in 1970, and the first ever elected prime min­is­ter, Zul­fiqar Ali Bhutto - who as­sumed power in 1973 - was ousted in a mil­i­tary coup in 1977 and hanged on a mur­der charge in 1979.

Since then, the mil­i­tary es­tab- lish­ment has al­ter­na­tively used con­sti­tu­tional ma­nip­u­la­tion and di­rect takeovers to keep the civil­ian lead­ers in line. In this, it has in­vari­ably been sup­ported by the top ju­di­ciary.

Dur­ing this pe­riod, the mil­i­tary has de­vel­oped a huge busi­ness and in­dus­trial em­pire which it runs from within, with lit­tle or no in­ter­fer­ence from the state au­thor­ity.

Many be­lieve this em­pire can only last as long as the mil­i­tary is able to con­trol some cru­cial do­mes­tic and for­eign pol­icy ar­eas, such as re­la­tions with In­dia, Afghanistan and the West, or the po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive and prop­a­ga­tion of a par­tic­u­lar type of pa­tri­o­tism at home.

For this, they say, the mil­i­tary has of­ten raised and pro­tected politi­cians who agree with its world view.

But pol­i­tics has its own dy­nam­ics. Once lead­ers have en­tered the main­stream, they feel more com­pelled to in­crease eco­nomic and other op­por­tu­ni­ties for their vot­ers. This has of­ten forced suc­ces­sive Pak­istani lead­ers to try to nor­malise re­la­tions with In­dia and other neigh­bours in the re­gion.

From pop­u­lar leader to coup

Nawaz Sharif started out as the pro­tégé of a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor, Gen Zia ulHaq, back in the late 1970s, and played a ma­jor role in the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment’s var­i­ous plans to de­stroy the PPP party of the for­mer prime min­is­ter, the late Be­nazir Bhutto.

That was also the pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to the Supreme Cour­tled in­ves­ti­ga­tors, when his fam­ily wealth mul­ti­plied sev­eral times over.

The gov­ern­ment of the PPP, a left-wing party, was be­lieved in the late 1980s to have opened chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with In­dia and had helped Delhi sub­ju­gate a sep­a­ratist move­ment in In­dian Pun­jab, which had started dur­ing the Zia regime and was be­lieved to have Pak­istani sup­port.

But by 1999, hav­ing emerged as a pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal leader him­self, Sharif fol­lowed the same path as Be­nazir - invit­ing the then In­dian prime min­is­ter to La­hore, where they signed the fa­mous La­hore Dec­la­ra­tion.

Months later, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary started the Kargil war with In­dia, and soon af­ter­wards Sharif was over­thrown in a coup.

In the 2013 elec­tions, one of Sharif’s main slo­gans was to im­prove trade ties with In­dia. Months after win­ning the elec­tion, his gov­ern­ment was paral­ysed by a six-month block­ade of the cap­i­tal Islamabad by the new kid on the block, for­mer crick­eter Im­ran Khan.

Some who sided with Khan dur­ing the 2014 block­ade of Islamabad have pub­licly ac­cused his party of re­ceiv­ing in­struc­tions from el­e­ments in the in­tel­li­gence ser­vice. Ear­lier, Khan was ac­cused by a re­spected so­cial worker, the late Ab­dus Sat­tar Edhi, of con­spir­ing with a for­mer chief of the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence agency, the ISI, to over­throw the gov­ern­ment of Be­nazir Bhutto in the mid-1990s.

Edhi, who was ap­proached to join the cam­paign and says he was threat­ened when he re­fused, had to leave the coun­try for some time un­til the storm blew over.

Since 2013, Sharif is seen to have con­ceded much pol­icy space to the es­tab­lish­ment over Pak­istan’s re­la­tions with In­dia, but his woes have kept mul­ti­ply­ing.

And Khan’s pe­ti­tion in the Supreme Court over the Panama Pa­pers has fi­nally pulled him down.

Pak­istan’s first ever elec­tion was held in 1970, and the first elected prime min­is­ter Zul­fiqar Ali Bhutto was ousted in a mil­i­tary coup


Pak­istani po­lice­men stand guard as the Supreme Court pro­nounces its judg­ment on al­le­ga­tions over the Panama Pa­pers leak in­volv­ing Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, in Islamabad on July 28

Nawaz Sharif

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