Saturday, April 14, 2018

From entry to exit: The politics of Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif

A defeat in the general elections would be the last nail in the political coffin of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif—now disqualified for life.

Photo from February 27, 2018 shows Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif embracing his brother, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, after being elected president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).—AFP/file photo

Although his entry into politics might have been accidental and unexpected, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif's exit from Pakistan's political arena after his lifetime disqualification by the Supreme Court—a major setback for the PML-N leader, his party, and his family—was expected. Let's have a closer look at Sharif's political journey, from the beginning to the end.

Sharif's family was apolitical and his father, the late Mian Mohammad Sharif, had initially turned down a request from General Zia ul Haq through General Jillani. He declined to join politics himself but later agreed to hand over his two sons, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shehbaz Sharif, on the condition that they would first be groomed properly.

The motive for then dictator Gen. Zia ul Haq and the military establishment was simple: to counter the Pakistan People's Party and the politics of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They needed somebody from Punjab, as Bhutto was even more popular in Punjab than in Sindh.

One of Nawaz Sharif's close aides once told me about his entry into politics and how his father agreed.

"Mian Sharif was a non-political businessman, but he became anti-Bhutto after his industries were nationalised along with other businesses by Bhutto. Somehow, General Jillani convinced the elder Sharif that his factories would be returned and that he could also protect his business through politics,” he stated.

Mian Sharif wanted to concentrate on his business but, because of pressure and influence from Jillani, he allowed his two sons to cooperate with Zia's martial law authorities, he said.

Thus, the two Sharifs were launched into Pakistan's political arena in the late 1970s, and were later politically trained. Two men who played an important role in their political growth in the 1980s and 1990s were former ISI chief General (retd) Hamid Gul and, Sharif's close aide in those days, Hussain Haqqani, a former information secretary and later Pakistan's ambassador to the US.

Photo from 1987 shows then prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo with Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif at Police College Sihala.

After the 1985 non-party elections, General Zia and his aides succeeded in keeping the PPP out of politics and decided to form the Pakistan Muslim League as the ‘King's party'. In a bid to counter a rising sense of political deprivation in Sindh after Bhutto's execution, Zia picked an unknown Sindhi politician, Mohammad Khan Junejo, as the prime minister and the head of the PML.

Junejo later even surprised Gen. Zia when, against his advice, he allowed political liberty to all parties and also announced freedom of the press. He later proved even more dangerous for Zia, when he issued the directive that all VVIPs, in civil and military bureaucracy, would use small cars. He also allowed Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan, lifting an unofficial ban on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter.

But, Junejo's political exit arrived only after he decided to sign the Geneva Accord—with the consent of all political parties—and also ordered an investigation into the mysterious Ojhri camp fire. In one of his interviews, Gen. Hamid Gul admitted that the military leadership got angry with Junejo over the Geneva Accord and decided to sack him.

Nawaz Sharif, who after the 1985 elections was elected as chief minister of Punjab province for the first time, later backed the establishment in getting rid of Junejo, who was finally removed from premiership by General Zia on May 29, 1988 using his powers as President under Article 58-2(B) of the Constitution.

On April 10, 1986 when Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after five years in exile, the mammoth crowd that received her scared Zia and the establishment.

"It is true that the IJI was formed to block the PPP's two-third majority, as there was a strong apprehension that she could take revenge from those who ousted and later executed her father," the late Hamid Gul once said in an interview with me.

The establishment knew how powerful Benazir Bhutto could be and wanted Sharif to first emerge as a strong opposition leader. Thus the IJI, an alliance of anti-PPP parties, was used to counter the People's Party in the elections. The PPP won but failed to get two-thirds majority, while the PML-led IJI emerged as a strong opposition alliance.

The game plan succeeded as the PPP failed to win in Punjab, and Nawaz as the head of the IJI emerged as a key opposition leader. Benazir was never allowed to settle and, within a year, a vote of no confidence was moved against the prime minister in which 'money' was allegedly used. However, the no-confidence vote was defeated but, as a result, Benazir Bhutto was further weakened and ultimately her government was dismissed under 58-2(B) on August 6, 1990.

Photo shows Benazir Bhutto (L) receiving her political rival Nawaz Sharif (R) at her residence in Islamabad December 3, 2007.—Reuters/file photo

After BB's sacking, Nawaz decided to try his luck with the top slot. There's an interesting history to the 1990 elections. Initially, the late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who was the interim prime minister, was picked as a possible replacement. Jatoi himself once told me that the establishment and Sharif struck a deal and he was not picked for the PM slot.

"Yes, there was an understanding that I would be the PM, but was later ditched,” he said.

It has now been an established fact that the 1990 elections were not only rigged but, through the Mehran Bank and Asghar Khan case, it has been proven that Rs. 90 million were distributed among anti-PPP politicians.

When for the first time Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister in 1990, in a bid to consolidate his position he also developed differences with the then-army chiefs—first with the late General Asif Nawaz and later with General Aslam Baig.

For the first time, the idea was developed within the establishment that "Sharif can't be trusted". In 1993, his government was also sacked and despite restoration by the Supreme Court, the government was not given to him and for the first time the establishment restored its contacts with Benazir Bhutto.

The Nawaz Sharif-led PML lost the elections and Benazir became the prime minister for the second time. While the establishment had no problems with Benazir, there were strong reservations regarding corruption allegations against her spouse, Asif Ali Zardari. Even a PPP nominee, the late Sardar Farooq Leghari who was elected as president, also received reports against Zardari and informed Benazir about them. This led to differences between Leghari and Zardari.

Benazir's brother, Murtaza Bhutto, who since 1986 had been warning his sister against all this, decided to return against her advice. Murtaza was killed in 1996, while his murder led to the sacking of the PPP's second government.

Photo from February 5, 1999 shows then prime minister Nawaz Sharif being greeted by army chief General Pervez Musharraf on his arrival in Kargil.— Reuters/file photo

Nawaz Sharif returned once again returned and this time with a two-thirds majority. He thought he had become too powerful and thus started taking measures which could have made him 'untouchable'. He wanted a judiciary of his own (remember what happened in the Supreme Court in 1998?) and also made an attempt to control the army. 

What happened with former army chief General Jehangir Karamat was something which Sharif would later regret. Karamat was replaced by General Pervez Musharraf, who was the choice of his brother Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Musharraf was given preference over General Ali Kuli Khan Khattak.

Within a year, Nawaz also started developing differences with Musharraf and ignored his advice over handling of matters with former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when the latter visited Lahore.

A well-informed source said that, on Oct 12, 1999, Nawaz took the premature decision of suddenly sacking Musharraf while the-then Chief of Army Staff was in Colombo. It is also a fact that he got a report that, before leaving for Sri Lanka, Musharraf had given certain instructions to his close aides—Gen. Mahmood, General Aziz and few others—that incase Nawaz takes any such decision, they should oppose it and throw him out of power.

The military coup once again ousted Sharif from power and he nearly faced the same fate as that of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had Saudi royal family not intervened. Under a deal, he was sent into exile for 10 years.

Photo shows Nawaz Sharif (left), former Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan ibn Abdel Aziz (center), and Pervez Musharraf (right) attending a military briefing in 1999.

For the first time, Nawaz realized that it was time to admit his political mistakes and mend fences and shun his differences with his political archrival. Benazir Bhutto, who too had become a victim of both political and non-political actors, also decided to meet Nawaz.

In 2006, the two leaders signed a wide-ranging Charter of Democracy in 2006. But when Benazir struck a deal with Musharraf through NRO, it only angered and disappointed Nawaz. Benazir, however, convinced him that it was the only way for re-entry into politics and get rid of Musharraf.

Both leaders returned to Pakistan but, due to Benazir's assassination on Dec 27, 2007, the Charter was never implemented.

Both Nawaz and Benazir faced serious corruption allegations and their governments were twice removed on these charges, but, despite military dictatorships, the allegations could never be proved in any court of law.

After Benazir, both the PPP and PML-N completed their full terms—the N-League is about to complete its term in the next 40 days—but could not absolve themselves of these corruption allegations. The only defense they had throughout was that corruption had been used as means to oust them from power.

Photo shows ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif addressing supporters during a rally in Jhelum on August 10, 2017.—Photo by AFP 

After been voted to power in 2013, while the PML-N government had all the time and power to establish itself, it lost direction. What happened in 2016 after the famous Panama Leaks eventually culminated into the end of Nawaz Sharif's political career.

From 2016 to this day, what happened not only sealed any chances of his return to power but perhaps his politics as well. If, in the next few weeks, Nawaz and his immediate family are also convicted by NAB, there is every possibility that it would not only end his political career but may be his family's legacy as well.

Nawaz Sharif's supporters may not accept this decision. However, the reaction would certainly be different as compared to the one that followed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's execution. The only 'hope' Nawaz now has is from his supporters and voters—IF they vote PML-N into power again. But a defeat in the general elections would be the last nail in the political coffin of the three-time prime minister, now disqualified for life.

—The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO