The Army is King

| | in Oped
The Army is King

With Sharif unhorsed and his party cornered, it will be important for India to watch how Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League and Imran Khan’s PTI fare

Any doubt that, ultimately, the military ruled Pakistan and the judges, in Francis Bacon’s famous words, were lions under the throne, has been demolished by the Pakistan Supreme Court’s sentencing of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, to ten and seven years of imprisonment respectively. It is true that their names reportedly feature in the Panama Papers, obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which, in turn, shared these with a large number of international partners.

Secreted in these papers — comprising 11.5 million files, are the names of over 140 politicians —12 of them national leaders —from more than 50 countries connected to offshore companies in 21 tax havens.  While the charges levelled against Sharif and daugher may well be true, the fact is that corruption has been all-pervasive in Pakistan’s public life and the military is steeped in it. Also, charges of involvement in it have constituted a well-known weapon of settling political and personal scores. Both Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau and National Accountability Ordinance 1999 have earned an unenviable reputation for partisan use.

All this underlines the relevance in the present case of the familiar adage that justice should not only be done but seen to have been done. It is the latter that has not happened. One reason for this is the uncharacteristic haste with which Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acted—first disqualifying Sharif from participating in politics for life and then sentencing him to imprisonment. It is no secret that Pakinstan’s Supreme Court has been vulnerable to the Army’s pressure. In response to a suit filed by the leadership of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in November, 1999, it, led by Chief Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, considered the coup, staged by General Pervez Musharraf on October 12, 1999, a violation of the Constitution. Subsequently, however, Siddqui resigned and, on May 13, 2000, a 12-judge bench of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, headed by Acting Chief Justice Irshad Hasan, unanimously validated the coup and the imposition of Martial Law by Musharraf, citing the “doctrine of necessity.” The fact that the validation was for three years, did not undermine the stamp of legality it put on the totally unconstitutional and anti-democratic venture.

One can cite a number of instances of Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s vulnerability to pressure On August 29, 2016, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s leader, Imran Khan, reportedly a blue-eyed boy of the Army, filed a plea before the it to disqualify Nawaz Sharif as prime minister on the basis of the contents of the Panama papers. The Supreme Court turned it down on the ground that petitioners had not approached other more appropriate fora for the purpose. It however performed a complete somersault and agreed to hear the case after Khan threatened an agitation!

The question is: Why does the Army want Nawaz Sharif out? He was a favourite of the general-turned-president Zia-ul Haq who had appointed him the chief minister of Punjab. Not only that, in Crossed Swords: Pakistan’s Army and the Wars Within, Shuja Nawaz cites an affidavit by Maj-Gen Asad Durrani, then Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as saying that prior to parliamentary elections of 1990, Sharif had received Rs 3.5 million (35 lakh) from the ISI which had also provided various other amounts to other opponents of Benazir Bhutto, and even some members of the Pakistan Peoples Party which she then headed.

Once prime minister, Sharif, however, clashed with the then COAS, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, on the US-invasion of Kuwait and his relations with Beg’s successor, Gen Asif Nawaz were also strained though the latter was a strong votary of democracy and the Army’s abstention from politics. On the other hand Sharif wanted to have his own way and tried to cultivate personal ties with generals bypassing the chief.

Sharif’s bumpy relations with the Army deteriorated sharply during the Kargil War of 1999, which General Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, had launched without fully informing him of the actual plans. Nor did he want his forces —Pakistani troops and associated jihadis — to retreat from Kargil under orders from Nawaz Sharif who, in turn, was acting under intense pressure from the United States to do so.

The rest is well-known—Sharif’s efforts to replace and arrest Pervez Musharraf, the latter’s staging of a coup, Sharif’s arraignment by a military court which sentenced him to life imprisonment for involvement in “aerial hijacking” and Musharraf’s surprising pardoning of him on December 10, 2000. Musharraf also allowed him and his family to leave for Saudi Arabia in a private plane provided by the Saudi royal family.

There have also been other reasons—his preference for a rapproachement with India and approach toward the American President Donald Trump, which the Army did not like. Meanwhile, with Sharif unhorsed and the PML (N) cornered, it will be important for India to watch how the terror merchant Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League and Imran Khan’s PTI fare.

(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)

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