Despite the brouhaha over the independence of the judiciary and all, this action of the Supreme Court is a judicial coup at the best, with the blessings of the all powerful Pakistan Army.
Consider the facts below.
Sharif’s disqualification came at the end of the eight month long process which was initiated by the accusation from the opposition party- the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its leader, Imran Khan. The PTI’s clamouring for a trial led the court to hear the petition on Sharif for corruption, after the Panama Papers named three of his children as owners of offshore companies suspected of money laundering. The court’s orders to the NAB to file the case were based upon the evidence collected by the court-appointed Joint Investigation Team. This team curiously consisted of judges, one of whom was allegedly a member of the PTI. The team also consisted of two officials from the military intelligence and Inter-Services Intelligence. This was the team which ‘fairly and impartially’ investigated evidence against Sharif and his family.
Also by disqualifying Sharif, the court has selectively done the application of justice. Because the same urgency to apply justice is not evident in the case of military leaders, such as General (R) Pervez Musharraf. It hardly needs to be mentioned that Gen. Musharraf who was to be tried for the 2007 suspension of the constitution managed to wriggle out of trial and then Pakistan, with army’s blessings and in spite of persistent civilian pressure. He is yet to be held accountable for subverting the Pakistani constitution and continues to live in a comfortable exile in London and Dubai. The judiciary also didn’t show the same level of enthusiasm in questioning the constitutionality of the secret military courts formed after the terrorist attack at Army Public School Peshawar in 2014.The same goes for disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who sold the nuclear technology in black market, made personal profits and tarnished the country’s non-proliferation record forever. But since the likes of A.Q. Khan enjoy the backing of the Pakistani Army, it will be utopian to expect that any serious action will ever be initiated against them.
So, while the dismissal of Sharif may give a façade of an independent judiciary, it is has in effect become a front and an institution of choice for the Pakistani Army to execute its will. This is particularly true because in recent years, Pakistani Army’s image has taken a beating with its repeated failures in protecting the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as evident in the case of the Raymond David case, the US Special Forces’ raid in Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden and the targeting of the Pak Army check post in Salala by the NATO troops.
The Pakistani Supreme Court has always upheld the ‘doctrine of necessity’ of the Pakistani Army for dismissing of civilian governments by the Army and by disqualifying Sharif, it has now given a new means for the Army to be the ultimate wielder of power. This is going to pave the way for repeated intervention by the Army to interrupt the political process.
As noted American expert on Pakistan, Christine Fair has noted in her book Fighting to the End, if other countries have armies, the Pakistani Army has a country. Any powerful civilian leader like that of Sharif, may be beneficial for Pakistan’s democracy but can make matters worse for the Army which has carefully nurtured the image as the protector and savior of Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The peaceful transition of power that happened in 2013 was not to the liking for the army because as democracy becomes more routine, the army will have an increasingly difficult time undermining governments and staging outright coups.
That Sharif managed to cling on to power despite the Army’s attempts to dethrone him is surprising. His strategy of going after the militant and extremist groups- including the National Action Plan, had generated enough heartburn for the army which had sought to protect many of the extremist groups for getting back at India.While Sharif didn’t do much to enhance ties with India, his public statements on India reflected that he intended to do more, which was in direct contrast to the Pakistani Army’s line of India as an enemy. Sharif’s persistent popularity was also something which was not liking to the Army. But even as they squirmed, the Generals could do little because of the parliamentary majority of the PML-N.
Sharif’s dismissal may have effectively ended his career but it’s just a matter of time before his brother Shahbaz Sharif occupies the seat as the country heads for the general elections of 2018. Moreover, no matter what happens to Sharif family, the relevance of Punjab province in Pakistan’s polity continues and it is here that some interesting developments are happening.
Sensing the political chaos and uncertainty, the anti-India terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba has formed a new political party - Milli Muslim League (MML) with an aim to contest the 2018 elections.In order to make it more mainstream, the outfit has brought in Saifullah Khalid as the leader of the MML. Yet the party will utilise the deep network of the Lashkar and its front organisation Jammat-ud-Daawa in Pakistan to emerge as a serious contender in the elections. To begin with, it has already announced that it will contest the by-election for National Assembly constituency NA-120 (Lahore), which fell vacant after Sharif’s resignation and from where his wife Kulsoom Nawaz is contesting.
The formation of the MML shows an attempt to mainstream the radical anti-India ideas of the Lashkar and the sort of political legitimacy that the outfit generated for itself through the Difa-e-Pakistan Council platform. Given the crisis of the credibility of the mainstream parties, this cannot be ruled out as an attempt by the Army to open one more front for claiming political control. Indeed, Pakistan’s polity is headed for interesting times.