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Opinion
Should India be worried?
By D K Giri
Any major political or military event in Pakistan concerns India inasmuch as both countries are at daggers drawn on Kashmir. The ouster of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif should certainly worry India for a good many reasons. He had dealt with six Indian Prime Ministers and had developed working relations with all of them.

With his business background, Sharif had realised that good trade and economic relations with India would ensure peace and harmony between the two nations. It is him more than any Pakistani Prime Minister who wanted to rein in on anti-India Pakistani military. In his second stint in 1997-99, Sharif had removed two army chiefs in one year. He had appointed Pervez Musharraf after superseding other senior officers. It is another matter that Musharraf later staged a military coup and forced Sharif into exile.

The Pakistan Army thrives on antagonism with India and now Afghanistan as it believes such a stance brings it political and pecuniary gains. Furthermore, Sharif had taken on the pro-army Supreme Court which has the controversial habit of dismissing elected civilian governments. Although accused of rigging and manipulating elections, Sharif strove to establish the supremacy of the democratic State. Remember, Pakistan's politic is based on three pillars -- the Islamic Groups, the Army and Kashmir-- all the three confront, bedevil and squeeze political democracy in the country.

Pakistan has a fledgling democracy which is yet to take firm roots. No civilian government in that country has ever completed its five-year term. Sharif too did not run the full term in his three stints as Prime Minister--1990-93, 1997-99 and 2013-17. Earlier, he was ejected by Army and now by the Supreme Court. His disproportionate income and assets were exposed by the Panama Papers leaked by law firm Mossack Fonesca. He has amassed wealth beyond his stated income, and his children had flats in expensive parts of London. Sharif did not disclose his firm in UAE during filing his nominations for the National Assembly is another charge. Even his bête noir Imran Khan of Tehreek-e-Insaf party, too had made faulty declarations of assets as a candidate. One recalls that Sharif was used in the past by the Army to attack Benazir Bhutto, and now Khan is being used against him.

The Supreme Court took cognizance of the Panama leaks and instituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that included two army officials. The presence of the army in JIT confirms that it was pursuing Sharif, who had tried to muscle into the Army's turf, the Kashmir policy etc. The JIT submitted its report on 10 July and the Supreme Court gave its verdict without wasting time, on the 28th. Invoking a clause of the Constitution that stressed Islamic virtues that a Prime Minister "be sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and upright", the apex Court decreed that Sharif was 'no longer fit to be the Prime Minister'. It asked the Election Commission to de-notify him from the National Assembly and ordered the National Accountability Bureau, an anti-corruption body to file charges within six weeks for the trial to be completed in six months. Unmistakably, the court has thrown Pakistan's politics into turmoil as the General elections are due in a year.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has the majority in the Lower House to elect Sharif's successor. Ideally, he would have liked his daughter Maryam to succeed him if she was not besmirched in the Panama saga. His second option was to bring in his younger brother Shahbaz, the current Chief Minister of Punjab province, the political stronghold of Nawaz's family. Until Shahbaz was inducted into the Lower House, Sharif installed one of his loyalist-Ministers Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as the Prime Minister. The buzz now is that Shahbaz has been ditched in the family feud; Maryam and her mother did not want Shahbaz to have greater hold of the party at the centre and in Punjab where Shahbaz wanted his son Hamza to succeed him.

The big question is what will happen to Sharif, Pakistani politics and India-Pakistan ties in the post-Sharif period? His immediate future has become uncertain. He had confronted the power centers in the past. At one point, he ransacked the Supreme Court, challenged the political might of the powerful military, and ordered the removal of General Musharraf in 1999 when he felt that the army chief had bypassed him on Kargil. He had even planned to arrest Musharraf on his return from Sri Lanka. And as Musharraf was flying back into Pakistan in a commercial flight, Sharif had got the Jinnah airport cordoned off, but the flight, on the pretext of refueling landed in another airport.

Then Musharraf turned the tables on Sharif, contacted his military colleagues, quickly organized a coup, and put Sharif under arrest. He was handed a life imprisonment and was to be given a death sentence by the military courts. However, in a deal brokered by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia Sharif escaped death and was exiled for 21 years. Ironically, again another deal with the army brought him back to Pakistan in 2007.

By most accounts, Sharif had tenuous relations with the Army. On 30 October 2016, he had issued two stern messages to the army. One, the army should not interfere in the civilian administration and second, as Pakistan was getting internationally isolated for being soft on terrorists, the army should expeditiously conclude the investigation and trial on Pathankot and Mumbai attacks. The messages delivered in a closed-door meeting were leaked to the media, much to the outrage of the army. Although, later on, Sharif tried to mend it with the army by dismissing his officials responsible for leaking the deliberations to the media, it was too late. The army had planned to corner Sharif.

There are limited options for Sharif to escape the conspiratorial clutches of Courts, the Army and the Jihadists. As he is still popular with the people, he may call for an early election and win. He has steadied the economy, built closer relations with China, drawn $54 billion in FDI for the China-Pakistan economic corridor, mitigated the acute electricity shortages etc. So the voters may still agree with him.

On the other hand, the army is not sure if Imran Khan is mature enough to rule Pakistan. Worse, he is caught in sexual harassment complaints by the women workers in his party. The army may leave it to the voters, as from General Kiyani to General Bazwa, the army is not keen on a take-over. Also the Supreme Court's activism with a Messianic complex may not go down well with the voters who would want full democracy.

On India-Pakistan relations, there may not be much of an impact although a stable democratic government is better for dialogue than the army. But on Kashmir, Sharif is on the same page as the army and the Jihadists whose raison d'être is fomenting trouble in India. Sharif had somewhat kept the doors for dialogue open, but these may now be fully shut. However, India need not worry as the US and China, the big influencers in the region, will not like, for different reasons, the India-Pakistan conflict to spiral out of control.

—(INFA)

(The author is Prof of International Politics at JMI)


News Updated at : Thursday, August 10, 2017
 
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