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Future of the Sharifs

M Ziauddin
With the Article 58(2)B out of the Constitution, military takeovers out of international favour and the 18th Constitutional amendment having drastically weakened the establishment’s ability to completely halt the democratic process at will the only option that it seems to have been left with now for keeping an elected government on a tight leash is to hold the head of the government to ransom in the superior courts.
In the previous coalition government led by the PPP the real power had rested with President Asif Ali Zardari by virtue of his being the Chairman of his party as the office of president had lost all its executive powers following the passage of 18th amendment. They tried to get the powerful party chairman through the courts by concocting the Memogate scandal. In this endeavour they were helped by an extremely partisan media group — the largest in the country. But Asif managed to escape, first by sacrificing his ambassador in the US, Hussain Haqqani and then giving up PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, a constitutionally powerful chief executive but one politically totally subservient to the Party chief.Though it failed to get Asif but the establishment was, however, happy to get in the process two consolation prizes — Haqqani and Gilani. The first because of the book (Pakistan between mosque and military) he had written and the second for asking who had given visa to Osama Bin Laden (killed in Abbottabad by the US Seals in May 2011) and also for talking about ‘state within state’.In the case of the PMLN government an attempt was made in the very first year of its rule but the attack was warded off successfully when the incumbent Party sought help from Parliament and also because the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court did not find it judicially prudent to rule that the 2013 elections were rigged by Nawaz and his cohorts.
But the establishment did not find it all that amusing when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attempted to get the former Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General (retd) Musharraf tried for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution. His ostensible efforts to woo India were also not very popular with the establishment. The final straw on the camel’s back was seemingly the Dawnleaks affair.
Still, it would have been almost impossible for these elements to set a legal trap for Nawaz had the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) not leaked the Panama Papers in April 2016. And once the case went into the Supreme Court all escape routes got shut off automatically as it had happened in PM Gilani’s contempt of court case. Nawaz and his family were given ample time not only by the Supreme Court but also by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to help trace the money trail that had led to the purchase of the London flats.But the family miserably failed to oblige.Finally when Nawaz was disqualified for not being found Sadiq (honest) and Ameen (righteous) one felt that on the face of it neither the establishment on its own and nor in the company of a ‘plaint’ Judiciary had hatched a conspiracy to get rid of an elected Prime Minister. It appeared to bea purely judicial job pulled off by an independent judiciary. And a large section of openly partisan media helped in re-enforcing this perception with the largest media group which was the side of the establishment in Zardari’s case finding itself on the losing side this time. There was not the slightest hint of trial by a Kangaroo court when the case was being heard by the Supreme Court. However, some purists view the appointment of a Supreme Court judge to oversee proceedings of NAB references against the Sharif family as well as instructions by the SC’s 5-member bench to complete the cases within six months as an injudicious attempt on the part of the SC to influence the judges sitting in the judgment of the NAB cases. While not controverting the institutional weaknesses of our official prosecution branches and the escape routes that a plethora of legal lacunas offer to the accused these purists, however,contend that the outcome of such a monitored process with time-limit would render the final NAB verdicts largely controversial. Fortunately the disgraceful ouster of Nawaz Sharif did not interfere seemingly meaningfully with the on-going democratic process. Neither did it lead to de-seating of Nawaz from his Party position which though legally is no more his. Like Zardari, Nawaz still has complete sway over his Party and no legal encumbrance would likely change this ground reality.
Nawaz nominated candidate, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi smoothly replaced his Party Chief as the leader of the House on Tuesday (August, 1, 2017) polling as many as 221 votes in a House of 342. This would mean, at this point in time the Party’s political fortunes do not seem to have been adversely affected by Nawaz’s ouster. In fact his disqualification seems to have resulted in the party closing its ranks. Moreover, politically the PMLN is still in full control of Punjab, a province which population-wise is larger than the three remaining provinces put together.And as they say the party that rules Punjab rules Pakistan despite the measure of autonomy that the 18th Constitutional amendment has allowed the provinces.Frankly speaking as of today all does not appear to have been lost by the Sharif family and the ruling Party. Both can stage a grand come back through the 2018 polls if they go about coping with the situation without getting panicked.
As of today neither the PPP nor the PTI is in a position to defeat the PMLN in a free and fair election in Punjab. However, to be able to win Punjab decisively in the next elections the Sharifs will have to come out of NAB cases unscathed and at the same time they would need to deliver by election time on their promises, especially those that concern the nagging power shortages in the country. The matter of bringing in a so-called permanent PM in the person of younger brother Shahbaz to replace the ‘interim’ PM Abbasi looks rather dicey.

And the biggest danger that the Sharifs face besides the NAB cases is the perceived discord within the family. A fight for the crown at this juncture would only lead to losing the kingdom itself for good.

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