Author : Vikram Sood

Originally Published 2018-06-29 05:59:43 Published on Jun 29, 2018
Ahead of Pak polls, no clear succession line to Sharif

Elections will take place in Pakistan next month and judging by developments since July 2017, there appears to be no clear line of succession to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. There are desertions within, although many say that the walkouts are not hurting enough.

It is enough to allow Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan with a chance.

Somewhere in the GHQ, Rawalpindi they are worried as Pakistan goes to the polls on July 25 2018.

The worry of the Deep State had set in early after Nawaz Sharif had won elections in 2013.

Nawaz, who was once their protege in the 1990s, had now assumed power with his relations with the Army already skewed after the 1999 coup by General Musharraf. Worse, it was feared that Nawaz had started showing signs of defiance and begun to have a mind of his own.

He could not be allowed to consolidate his government.

Imran Khan's ambitions came in handy and his famous Azadi March of 2014 launched with substantial help from the mysterious, moneyed and Canadian, Tahir ul-Qadri. This virtually crippled Punjab for weeks.

The army chief of the day, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had to intervene to restore normalcy.

When Sharif went after General Musharraf and wanted to impeach him, General Raheel Sharif intervened and let Gneral Musharraf escape Sharif's vendetta.

Later, when Sharif faced another sit-in strike by the Barelvi Sunni fundamentalist Tehrik Labbaik, it had to be sorted out by General Bajwa.

Two successive governments, elected in 2008 and 2013, will have completed their five-year terms as the country goes in to the next round of elections.

No Prime Minister has been able to complete his five-year term in Pakistan's electoral history. Mid-course replacements have been the norm. It took the country a full 20 years after General Zia died in a mysterious crash in 1988 for Asif Zardari's PPP to form a government after the elections in 2008 that lasted its full term. This would have been the government of Benazir Bhutto had she not been assassinated in December 2007.

Pakistan has traditionally had two or three major parties competing with one of them being a right-wing conglomerate of the Deep State or backed by it.

Between the departure of General Zia in a plane crash in 1988 and the departure of General Musharraf in ignominy in 2008, Pakistan witnessed several prime ministers in a revolving door exercise in the 1990s during which the army often played the arbiter's role among squabbling politicians.

Hobbling Nawaz necessary

Nawaz Sharif had been able to cobble together a coalition government in 2013 even though the PML (N) had fallen short of the halfway mark of 137 seats, having won 124.

The new incarnation of Nawaz Sharif was different from the earlier right-wing persona of the 1990s. He even decided to attend Narendra Modi's inauguration as prime minister in May 2014, and hosted him in Pakistan when Modi suddenly decided to go to Raiwind for the wedding of the granddaughter of Nawaz.

This sudden bonhomie with India and the tendency of politicians to act independently made the army uncomfortable for fear that India-Pakistan peace may actually become possible.

The army was anxious that the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which debarred the army from intervening in political matters be revoked. Nawaz did not budge. Then Nawaz did something more that upset the mullahs.

He supported the restriction on Tablighi Jamaat from preaching in schools, his government hanged Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who had killed Governor Saleem Taseer in 2011 for criticizing the Blasphemy Law, pushed to end child marriage, enacted a bill to end domestic violence, and he unblocked YouTube.

By 2016, the mullahs were livid, Nawaz remained defiant and the Deep State was uneasy, as the play was not being played to the script.

Nawaz had to be hobbled before modernity and moderation took root and definitely before the next elections of 2018. The first objective would have been to prevent Nawaz from being reelected.

The second objective was that his replacement should be a pliable and manageable one. Imran Khan fits the bill. Seemingly Westernised when dealing with westerners but quite conservative with fundamentalists at home, something both the Army and the fundamentalists accept as desirable. Imran Khan is ambitious with an exaggerated notion about his own capabilities and wisdom.

He should win just enough so that he would need the support of the Army's favourites - the fundamentalist groups like the Jamaat ut Dawa candidates contesting under a different banner. They may not win enough seats but will cause a dent in the votes for the other side.

The leakage of the Panama Papers in 2016 showed extensive involvement of the Nawaz Sharif family with property and companies worth millions of dollars in the UK, with his sons Hassan,

Hussein and daughter Maryam holding multiple properties in the United Kingdom.

The Deep State had begun to flex its muscles. By April 2016, the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif asserted that across-the-board accountability was necessary.

Acting on cue, in May 2017 the court disqualified Nawaz from holding office for being dishonest about not disclosing his employment by a Dubai based company and ordered an enquiry.

The court had found Nawaz as not having been sadiq and ameen - truthful and righteous. Later in April 2018, the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz from holding public office for life.

Clearly, the possibility of having a two-term prime minister, with democracy getting away from the protective wings of Rawalpindi with the attendant and far more dangerous prospect of peace with India, however remote, breaking out had to be averted.

Nawaz was however not giving up as he tried to enact laws that would ensure that the courts would not use these vague articles to dismiss elected governments. The army apparently took preemptive action in arranging defections in the PML (N) led government in Balochistan and replaced by a pro-Army government.

This happened before the provincial assemblies elected senators to the national assembly. As a result of these elections the pro-PML (N) candidate for the post the Senate chairman lost and with that Nawaz's hopes of ensuring amendments.

Nawaz Sharif's political fortunes were clearly being crippled. There is no clear line of succession to Nawaz Sharif; there are desertions within although many say that the walkouts are not hurting enough. It is enough to allow Imran with a chance.

The aim of the exercise is have the elections that are seemingly free and fair but the results are favourable which would not attract western censure. "Operation Dangal" to cripple Nawaz Sharif was successful. This was the end of Act I of the drama.

This commentary originally appeared in ANI.

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Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood is Advisor at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Sood is the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — India’s foreign intelligence agency. ...

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Holger Rogner

Holger Rogner

Holger Rogner International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

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