Pakistan in 2017

Senior journalist and analyst Mazhar Abbas takes a look back at the major issues and events that dominated Pakistan in 2017

Pakistani politics in 2017 revolved around the judiciary, be it the case of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif or the main opposition leader Imran Khan resulting in the disqualification of the former and qualification of the latter.

Arguably, the year belonged to the Supreme Court and, unless things do not go from bad to worse, the judiciary would continue to play the role in 2018 as one of the strongest pillars of the state. However, it may face new kinds of challenges and pressure for the trial of former military dictator, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, in multiple cases ranging from abrogating the Constitution to Benazir Bhutto's murder case.

If 2017 was the worst year for Nawaz, who felt not only insulted but also humiliated at the hands of the judiciary, it was 'a dream come true' for Imran Khan. Imran, perhaps in his over-optimism after his 20 years of struggle, considered the disqualification of Nawaz as his possible victory in the general elections in 2018, finding a hurdle in the form of just one person between him and Islamabad—Shehbaz Sharif.

Shehbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab and younger brother of former PM Nawaz Sharif. 

Nawaz is no longer an 'Anokha Ladla', but the same cannot be said about Shehbaz, something that causes concern in Imran's camp. For the politically downtrodden Pakistan People's Party, however, the new 'Ladla' is Imran.

The absence of the Sharifs from Pakistan and their presence in Saudi Arabia, their hosts from 2000 to 2007, on the eve of the New Year leaves behind many unanswered questions over the future of Pakistani politics and its 'Ladlas'.

The year was also one of the worst—perhaps the worst-ever year—for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and, for the first time in almost 30 years (1987 to 2017), elections in Karachi in 2018 would be not be predictable.

MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar speaks to a Rangers personnel shortly before being detained on the night of August 22, 2016.—Photo: Geo News

The year also saw the closure of Nine-Zero in Azizabad, the centre of all MQM politics, after its founder Altaf Hussain raised anti-Pakistan slogans during his controversial speech on August 22, 2016, which led to further divisions in the party.

In the last 10 years, no other institution in Pakistan has become as strong as the judiciary, and that is also one of the reasons why it became controversial as well. Concern over its proactive role has not only come from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz but also from the PPP and the Sindh government.

What really went wrong between the Sharifs and the judiciary is still a mystery, as the former prime minister has yet to disclose the 'conspiracy' against him and his sudden harsh stance against the July 28 judgment by the courts. Nawaz, who once led the lawyers' movement and whose 2009 Long March resulted in the restoration of deposed judges, now appears to be on a warpath against the same judiciary for his own reasons.

Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif addresses a rally from his bullet-proof container in Rawalpindi on August 9, 2017.—Photo: AFP

Nawaz looked particularly perturbed with some of the remarks or references made in the judgment and once during the hearing of a contempt case against PML-N Senator Nihal Hashmi, remarks like 'Godfather' and 'Sicilian mafia'. But, from the people's perspective, the proactive role of the judiciary in playing the watchdog's role, particularly in cases regarding bad governance, has been appreciated at large. This was evident in the cases relating to potable water, illegal marriage halls, high-rise buildings, admission fee hike, and others. Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar's decision that the courts would also remain open even on Saturdays and Sundays was generally welcomed by a large cross section of the society.

Therefore, the proactive role of the judiciary dominated the national scene throughout the year and also received massive media attention, both in political and public interest cases. It also goes to the credit of the judiciary that local bodies' elections and the population census were held on its directives. The Karachi operation was also the outcome of the Supreme Court suo motu notice. Even regular meetings of the federal cabinet started taking place as per the Constitution after directives of the apex court.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, we also came to know that over 1,600 police officials and officers were allegedly involved in criminal and corrupt practices.

Photo shows Maryam Nawaz (centre) along with her brothers, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz, and minister Marriyum Aurangzeb.

But the case which took Pakistan by storm, and whose dust has not fully settled yet, was the historic decision of the five-member bench on July 28, disqualifying three-time elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on ‘Iqama’. It also directed the National Accountability Court to complete the proceedings against Nawaz, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, former finance minister Ishaq Dar and others within six months, which will end in April 2018.

During the year, we also witnessed back-to-back decisions against the Sharifs, which led to regular appearances before the Joint Investigation Team of Nawaz’s daughter Maryam, son-in-law Captain (retd) Safdar, sons Hussain and Hasan Nawaz, and former finance minister Ishaq Dar.

For all practical purposes, the government virtually remained at a standstill throughout the year.

Following the verdict, the PML-N and the 'House of Sharifs' looked divided, at least to a level of serious difference of opinion over handling of the situation. While Nawaz took the path of resistance, his brother Shehbaz and veteran politician Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan apprised the party and PML-N chief about the consequences.

Many believe that if Nawaz had not taken the GT Road route and accepted the verdict as it is without expressing reservations, he would have been finished. Thus he took a difficult path and his five-day journey from GT Road to Model Town was basically to restore his image and confidence of his workers and voters.

Therefore, 2017 will surely be remembered as the year of the Supreme Court for its back-to-back decisions on the Panama Papers, from a 3-2 majority judgment to a 5-0 unanimous decision, both linked to Nawaz and his political career. What made things worse for the strongman of Punjab, who represents the powerful business elite, was not that the apex court disqualified him, but the kind of references and remarks made during the proceedings and in the verdict as well.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairperson Imran Khan addresses media alongside Jahangir Tareen.

For almost eight to nine months of 2017, the Panama Papers case remained the topic of hundreds of talk shows from 7AM to 11PM, with opposition parties, particularly the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its leader Imran Khan, even expecting early elections after Nawaz’s disqualification.

On the contrary, Nawaz appeared to be in a defiant mood and, instead of accepting the verdict, he launched an anti-judiciary movement, blaming some hidden forces and taking the movement to the streets, starting from GT Road to Mall Road, in what looked like an attempt to motivate the otherwise demoralised PML-N workers.

But the year would also be remembered for other political and non-political happenings as well, like the surprise visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend a wedding in Sharif's family, or the big news in sports when Pakistan defeated archrivals India in the T-20 World Cup final – perhaps the only time when media attention was diverted from politics or the judiciary.

Meanwhile, the civil-military relationship during all these months saw some ups and downs, but the address by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa to the Senate Committee of the Whole House created history. His presence for nearly four-and-a-half hours—during which he responded to all types of questions, from national security to internal politics and his support for democracy and the Parliament—buried all kinds of speculations and rumours regarding postponement of elections, long-term interim government, or dissolution of assemblies.

Photo shows the wife and mother of Kulbhushan Jadhav, who is on death row in Pakistan for espionage, in Islamabad for a meeting with the former Indian Navy officer.  

The year ended with Pakistan's landmark diplomatic initiative by allowing the mother and the wife to meet Kulbushan Jadhav, the Indian spy on death row in Pakistan, and that too on the eve of the birth anniversary of founder of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The message was loud and clear to the world that Pakistan is a responsible country and the one who has given sacrifices of thousands of its soldiers and citizens in the 'war against terrorism'.

The civil and military establishments were on ‘one page', particularly on national security issues dealing with United States and Afghanistan. As expected, the Pakistan-US relationship in the post-Donald Trump era witnessed an all-time tense period as the US president and his administration clearly appeared to be on the Indian side and selling the Indian narrative in dealing with Pakistan.

Former Pakistan army chief Gen (r) Raheel Sharif, the commander of Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition.—Photo by Online

One of the biggest controversies regarding national security or foreign affairs emerged when Pakistan was named in the Saudi-led military coalition and former army chief, General (retd) Raheel Sharif, was named as its head. The most surprising aspect was that the announcement came from Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani government was taken aback.

There is never a dull moment in Pakistan, at least for the media, whose role in 2017 calls for an entirely separate debate. The role of the media over the years has certainly become something more than that of a mere watchdog. If it does not set the agenda, it certainly contributes a lot in letting the agenda work and reach some kind of conclusion. Gone are the days of professionalism and ethical journalism.

Happy New Year to all those who wish to see Pakistan on a true democratic path!

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO