The only man to be elected prime minister three times in South Asia, Nawaz Sharif spoiled it for himself because he lacked vision and made one bungle after another.
Nawaz Sharif and his cronies crossed all boundaries to loot national wealth.
Disqualified from holding public office, debarred from holding party office and now, sentenced to 10 years in jail by an accountability court — it has been a year of massive political and personal setbacks for Nawaz Sharif.
There are questions being asked by political pundits regarding the erstwhile PML (N) chief, as to whether he will retaliate like a wounded tiger or wither away in the wilderness without a whimper? What is the fate of his political party?
The problem is that Nawaz Sharif, who is considered a seasoned politician by many analysts, is in fact far from that. The reason that he has been incarcerated after a lengthy trial and has been removed from the mantle of Prime Minister on three occasions is owing to his myopic policies and lack of vision.
A brief look at his political career will indicate this. Nurtured by one of Pakistan’s most brutal military dictators, General Zia-ul-Haq, Nawaz Sharif tried to shake away the cloak of dependency on the Army, but instead of doing so with political finesse, he started bad mouthing the Khakis and committed hara-kiri each time.
Verbal assaults could have been overlooked but whenever Nawaz Sharif was in power, he tried to assert his supremacy by selecting an Army Chief of his choice and then falling out with him over matters of policy. General Waheed Kakar showed him the door because Nawaz Sharif chose to cross swords with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. During his next tenure as Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif sacked one of the finest Chiefs of the Pakistan Army, General Jahangir Karamat, only because he had floated the idea of forming a National Security Council (NSC) to deal with matters of paramount importance. Ironically, while General Jahangir Karamat rendered his resignation like a gentleman, Nawaz Sharif went on to form the NSC. His next choice for leading the Army was General Pervez Musharraf, whom he selected after superseding at least three other generals.
General Musharraf was selected for being a Muhajir (settler) from India. Nawaz miscalculated that Musharraf would have no backing from ethnic bastions of strength and would remain subservient to him. The same blunder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had committed in nominating General Ziaul-Haq, whom he considered pliable and acquiescent. General Ziaul-Haq became Bhutto’s tormenter-in-chief and not only deposed him but later hanged him after a dubious trial.
Nawaz Sharif himself ignited the fire of rebellion in the Army through his inanity, lack of concentration on strategic matters and impetuosity. When Pervez Musharraf briefed the PM regarding the Kargil Operation, his mind was wandering elsewhere. Nawaz Sharif gave tacit approval to the scheme without bothering to understand it, let alone question its aftermath and repercussions. When Kargil became a matter of international pressure, Nawaz Sharif feigned ignorance.
His greatest bungle was sacking General Musharraf, when he was in midair, enroute from Sri Lanka to Karachi after an official visit. The passenger aircraft carrying the Army Chief was refused permission to land in Karachi and order were given to divert it to India, where Pervez Musharraf would certainly have been arrested, since the Indians loathed his guts and the damage and mayhem he had caused in Kargil. In the worst case scenario, the aircraft would have crashed in the Arabian Sea due to lack of fuel.
To rub salt into the wound, Nawaz Sharif summoned the Director General ISI, Lieutenant General Ziauddin Butt, a known friend of the Sharif family; he was hastily promoted as the new Army Chief. The Army top brass retaliated and carried out a coup d’état, placing Nawaz Sharif and his cronies under arrest. All this was happening while Pervez Musharraf was still in mid air, unsure of his fate.
Hindsight is 20/20. Nawaz Sharif would have saved himself the ignominy of being deposed if he had waited for General Musharraf to land in Pakistan and formally sacked him in person. Keeping the decorum of the Armed Forces in mind, perhaps General Musharraf would have accepted the lawful command but, by trying to play generalissimo, Nawaz Sharif himself overturned the applecart of democracy and sealed his own fate. He was tried for attempted hijacking of the aircraft carrying General Musharraf but rather than face a stiff jail sentence and consolidating his political base, he chose discretion to be the better part of valour and struck a deal, whereby he was exiled for ten years.
Returning to Pakistan in 2007, he fought the general elections in 2008 but failed to get the requisite number of votes because the Pakistan People’s Party gained sympathy for its slain leader Benazir Bhutto. Nawaz Sharif was re-elected as Prime Minister after an amendment in Pakistan’s constitution. General Pervez Kiani was the Army Chief when Nawaz Sharif won the elections. Kiani’s term ended that same
year and Nawaz Sharif chose General Raheel Sharif as the next Army Chief but he soon fell afoul of him. His overtures to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his proposed business deals with India did not earn him any brownie points with the Army. Subsequently, the revelations made by the Panama Leaks were not conjured by the Pakistan Army. These leaks disclosed the shady manner in which Nawaz Sharif had stashed the national exchequer’s hard earned money into offshore companies and built an international empire. When questioned, he tried to deal with the allegations superciliously and failed to provide the money trail, which brought about his downfall.
The Falstaffian nature of Nawaz Sharif forced him to rely on the naiveté of his inexperienced and immature daughter Maryam Safdar rather than his devoted supporters like Chaudhry Nisar. Maryam let her father down on numerous occasions with her irresponsible comments and reckless behaviour.
Having submitted themselves for incarceration, Mian Nawaz Sharif and his daughter have filed appeals in the High Court contesting the Supreme Court verdict against them. July 13 was a dismal day. On the return of the father-daughter duo, no PML (N) leader of any consequence came out on the streets. Even Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother, did take out a rally and was nowhere near the Lahore airport. There are reports of sibling rivalry between the Sharifs. If Shahbaz Sharif manages to get elected as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, he will take steps to ensure his dynasty continues with the baton being passed on to his son Hamza Sharif rather than niece Maryam Safdar. Nawaz Sharif has taken the political gamble to return to Pakistan and try and challenge the Supreme Court verdict, less to clear his own name and more to install Maryam Safdar, whose political career was cut short even before it took off. There is news of Nawaz Sharif reaching out to Asif Zardari to form the next coalition government. Zardari and his sister Faryal also face charges of money laundering and would perhaps join forces with Nawaz Sharif to preserve their own legacy.
Prima facie, with Nawaz Sharif and his daughter being jailed and brother Shahbaz Sharif also facing investigations of corruption and bad governance, the fate of the PML (N) appears to be doomed. Over 140 former PML (N) parliamentarians have either ditched their parent political party and joined the rising fortunes of the PTI or were contesting the elections as Independents to cast their lot with the winners. Such is the fate of democracy in Pakistan.