Disqualified Nawaz Sharif’s road journey to Lahore
Asif Haroon Raja
Panama case dented Pakistan’s progress
Pakistan had begun to get stronger at the start of 2016 after tidying over energy crisis, economic crisis, and existential threat of terrorism. Target killings, kidnapping for ransom and extortion in Karachi had almost ended. Up swinging of macro-economic indicators together with launching of $46 billion worth CPEC opened up broad vistas for economic progress and prosperity. The dream of making Pakistan an Asian Tiger looked real. Amid the happy tiding Panama scandal cropped up from out of the blue which gave a chance to the political rivals of PML-N to block and pull down the rising graph of affluence. From April 2016 onwards, the PTI assisted by electronic and social media riveted the nation towards Panama issue alone. Removal of Nawaz Sharif (NS) from power which Imran Khan (IK) relentlessly pursued since June 2013 became his goal. This ambition bred negativism, intolerance, hatred and dissipation of morality.
Culture of allegations, abuses, slander became a norm because of which social and human values dipped low. NS was presented as the most corrupt man this country had ever seen and responsible for the afflictions of Pakistan. For unknown reason, the apex court hearing the high profile case gave suggestive and loaded statements, thereby providing fodder to the media to indulge in sensationalism. It made no effort to curb media war by both sides. Notwithstanding the outright negativity of PTI and rating hungry media, the ruling regime kept its focus on development, while the security forces kept fighting the foreign paid proxies.
Impact of Supreme Court decision
The decision of 5-member Supreme Court Bench (SCB) on July 28 against NS made his opponents particularly IK led PTI euphoric, but shocked the ruling PML-N and its allies. The PTI didn’t bother about the political vacuum that occurred and its hazardous repercussions, but rejoiced over the thought that victory was within its grasping reach. Its optimism rested on the assumption that the PML-N fort would crack up and at least 50 MNAs would join PTI or PML-Q. Lot of work had been done in this regard and it was expected that old PML-Q lawmakers who had reverted to mother party and some others would join the celebrations of PTI on July 30. These defections in their view would make it impossible for the PML-N legislators and their allies to win simple majority of 172 seats for the next PM and thus pave the way for early elections.
Apparently, the wind started to blow entirely in favor of rivals of NS after his disqualification from holding public office for life. The PML-N seemed to be on a downhill journey as a national party with no hope of recovery. For them NS and his family had become history and there was nothing stopping PTI from gaining power. It was shortsightedness and wishful thinking and nothing else.
Political vacuum bridged
So far nothing of the sort has happened as assumed by foes of NS. The defendants of the Panama scandal case and the ruling regime accepted the Supreme Court (SC) decision but didn’t agree with it and decided to opt for review petition and to take the case to the people. On 01 August, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected new PM securing 221 votes. Allied parties NP, PkMAP, JUI-F and MQM (Pakistan) voted for Khaqan. Opposition couldn’t put up a consensus candidate because of which their votes splintered. PPP candidate won 46 votes, PTI’s candidate Sheikh Rashid 33 votes and Jamaat Islami candidate 4 votes.
Soon after, a new 43-member cabinet was sworn in and the political void was filled. Slot of Foreign Minister lying vacant for 4 years was also filled by Asif Khawaja, while Ishaq Dar and Saad Rafique retook their old ministries of Finance and Railways. Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastagir took over Interior and Defence Ministries respectively. It has now been decided that Khaqan will continue to perform as PM till next elections in May 2018, while Shahbaz Sharif (SS) tipped as his relief will stay put as CM Punjab. SS will also take over as president of PML-N after vacation of the seat by NS.
No dent in NS popularity
What is most bewildering for many is that NS has not lost his old gloss and popularity within the party parliamentarians and among the voters of PML-N. After his disqualification, the parliamentary party meeting on Jul 29, 2017 reposed full confidence in NS leadership and with one voice termed the July 28 verdict as a judicial oversight, and vowed to support him. He named the new interim PM and the future PM and also approved the names of new cabinet members. A glimpse of his popularity among the people was seen on his two-way journey to Murree and back to Punjab House and now it is being further echoed by the human sea of his fans moving with his convoy to Lahore.
Game changing road journey
NS changed his initial decision to proceed to his hometown Lahore on August 6 via Motorway and has embarked on a 400 km road journey along GT Road on August 9. His cavalcade will pass through PML-N’s 14 constituencies and at each constituency NS will be welcomed by slogan-chanting and flag-waving Leaguers. He will terminate his journey at Data Durbar Lahore by next Friday.
Huge preparations were made and security arrangements tied up. PM Khaqan and PML-N lawmakers hugged him and saw him off at Punjab House at 1130 hours while many accompanied him. His fans emotionally kissed his vehicle and showered rose petals. A container equipped with resting facilities accompanied NS and catered for night-stay facility at one-two cities. Senior hawkish leaders of PML-N have started to heat up the political temperature to trigger sympathy wave for NS. The epic road caravan may prove to be a game changer.
Anxieties of foes of NS
Alarmed and flabbergasted by the sudden change of tide, the PTI leaders are making hue and cry as to how come a disqualified PM on whom references have been filed in the trial court can take part in politics. They demanded that he and his family members should be put on exit control list. A case was moved in the SC on August 7 requesting it to disallow NS from undertaking the road move. The petitioner took the plea that the move is intended to discredit the judiciary. Impressed by the turnout of PML-N workers and fans, the SC turned down the petitions.
Woes of IK
IK is faced with court cases ranging from his party’s foreign funding to purchase and sale of his flat in London and purchase of huge land in Banigala in Isbd over which he built a palatial house and his luxurious lifestyle without any source of income. He is at risk of being disqualified. Bounce-back by PML-N has distressed him.
As if these worries were not enough, his party’s MNA Gulalai from Waziristan levelled accusations against IK and called him characterless on account of sending her erotic messages on his mobile phone. She stated that scruples of women parliamentarians and workers in PTI are unsafe. She also accused PTI Ministry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) of being involved in corruption.
It created an uproar and put IK on the defensive. PTI women parliamentarians feeling sheepish are in ugly mood and are berating well-educated and bold Gulalai who is eloquently and forcefully putting forward her grievances. She has left her party but much to the chagrin of PTI, she refuses to vacate her seat. A parliamentary committee has been formed to probe the truth, but IK is reluctant to appear before it.
Efforts to scare NS
To frighten NS, PTI recalled PAT leader Tahirul Haq Qadri (TuQ) based in Canada. Opportunist TuQ with dubious track record seized the opportunity and suddenly landed at Lahore on August 8 and held a public meeting at Nasir Bagh which was attended by PTI leaders and Sheikh Rashid. TuQ announced that he will reinvigorate the July 2014 Model Town case in which 14 workers of PAT were killed during a clash with the police. After the fall of NS, TuQ hopes to get SS and Rana Sanaullah disqualified through apex court/JIT and then demolish the PML-N Punjab fort. He exhorted his followers to be prepared to stage a decisive sit-in in case blood money was not paid to the families of 14 victims.
Propaganda machinery of PTI has been geared up to further heap abuses on the cast-off NS and IK has decided to hold a public meeting on 13th to water down the impact of NS road move. Punjab PPP leaders are also shamefacedly trying to undermine the strength of supporters of NS who have come from far distances in large numbers. ARY TV and some other channels as usual are giving false coverage. There is so much of rush that the huge caravan of vehicles and walkers has till 9 pm not reached Committee chowk on Murree Road where NS will hold his first address. NS will spend the night at Punjab House Rwp from where he had started in the morning.
IK’s improper sarcasm
IK has sarcastically asked NS that he should tell who signaled him to come on roads. Before NS answers his silly question, IK should first tell the nation who signaled him and TuQ to undertake a long march from Lahore to Isbd in July 2014, assault the PTV building, Parliament and PM Houses, stage a six-month sit-in at D-Chowk to paralyse the government and put people of twin cities to great inconvenience. IK should tell who told him to lock down Islamabad on Nov 2, 2016. He should answer Javed Hashmi’s allegation that he changed his mind when a better course was offered to him by the apex court judge to remove NS and dissolve the NA through courts.
IK should state who signaled rabble rouser TuQ to reach Lahore posthaste and make it difficult for NS to enter Lahore on 9/10 August by staging a sit-in and blocking the entry road. TuQ had almost decided to do so but then sense prevailed and he changed his mind. He is also required to extend support to PTI candidate contesting NA-120 seat, the result of which will prognosticate the future political strength of PML-N and PTI.
IK had lost in May 2013 elections but he never reconciled to it despite the apex court ruling that elections were free and fair. His allegations were entirely based on suspicions and conjectures. NS is not reconciling with the apex court judgement based on controversial JIT report and he smells conspiracy.
NS says that he was not disqualified on account of corruption, but on a frivolous charge of receiving salary from the Capital FZE Dubai based Company owned by his son Hassan Nawaz of which he was a Chairman. NS says he was not convicted on charges made by the petitioners, but was sentenced for not mentioning the salary he had not drawn, as ‘receivable’ (asset) in his 2013 income tax return. He has decided to seek a review petition and to request the chief justice to appoint a larger bench to hear his case.
While IK was never questioned as to why he has not reconciled with 2013 elections; NS is being ridiculed for not reconciling to the apex court judgement?
One may ask PTI leaders as to why they have got so upset over the road convoy led by a disqualified and powerless man. If according to them he is a highly unpopular and despised leader, then what is the worry? Let the people boo him. This road move will give a clear glimpse of NS popularity or unpopularity.
Unlike IK, NS doesn’t intend to stage a prolonged sit-in or to lock down a city to cause inconvenience to the public. It will be a two to three days journey and will be undertaken peacefully.
If IK has been holding public meetings for the last 3 years to convince the public that he was a clear winner in 2013 elections but he lost on account of massive rigging, why can’t NS present his case to the public that he has been wronged and the people’s mandate not respected?
IK despite being out of power, took the country for a ride all these years and made a mockery of all the state institutions including the Parliament, Election Commission and the SC, but was not obstructed, imprisoned or disqualified. While he left no stone unturned to boot out NS, the ruling regime refrained from deposing PTI government in KP despite constant coaxing by Fazlur Rahman. It also didn’t make any effort to block his politics of slander through social media.
NS was a democratically elected leader with a heavy mandate and had produced highly pleasing results in his 4-year rule. Not a single mega corruption scandal took place whereas there were dozens during PPP rule under Zardari. This is what has pained NS that in spite of his all-round performance which none can deny, he has been unseated from PM seat prematurely and disqualified for life under Articles 62 (1) (f), terming him as dishonest and untruthful.
The matter doesn’t end here. Several references have been sent to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against NS and his 3 children for trial and given time frame to start the proceedings within 45 days and complete the trial in six months. On top of it, a SC judge has been mandated to supervise NAB’s progress which is unprecedented. Supervision of JIT by 3-Member Implementation Bench was also unparalleled.
NS has strong reasons to suspect that the decision was predetermined and feels he has the right to present his case before the people who had voted him to power and still hold him in highest esteem. He rightly says that he never committed a penny worth corruption throughout his 35-year political history. He draws strength from the unity within the ranks of PML-N and the eyebrows raised by legal luminaries and analysts both inside and outside the country about the court’s decision. During his addresses on his way to Lahore, he may share his grouses with his supporters.
Views of Legal experts/analysts
Legal experts say as to why the SCB disqualified him for life on the findings of JIT when the respondents had raised so many objections against the biased attitude of JIT.
They ask as to why it announced the verdict without ascertaining the validity of references through the trial court, whether he was guilty or not? The nation would have been quite satisfied had a charge of corruption, or embezzlement or money laundering been proven against NS.
They ask as to what was the grave emergency to take this extreme decision at a time when the country was faced with grave internal and external dangers, it was getting ripe for an economic takeoff, and there were few months left for the next elections?
Wasn’t a smooth political transition better for growth of democracy than futilely trying to cure the cancer of corruption by axing one rich family?
Was it that the decision couldn’t be pended because the country was economically sinking as had happened in 2012/2013?
Or the ruling elite was callously gobbling up the resources and breaking all records of corruption as was done by previous regime?
Or the country was at the verge of disintegration due to terrorism in FATA, Baluchistan and Karachi as was the case in 2013?
Or the constitution and rule of law were being compromised and there was wide scale nepotism and poor governance?
Or the regime had become a security risk similar to Memogate scandal in Oct 2011, and Altaf Hussain’s diatribe against Pakistan on August 22, 2016?
If NS had become a security risk owing to his suspected softness and closeness with India on account of business interests, he should have been disqualified on this charge and not on Iqama. But which leader has ever been punished on account of his/her ties with India?
If any of these fears were non-existent, then should it be assumed that urgency of IK to seize power in a jiffy was considered as most pressing and in national interest?
The internal situation although returning back to normal is in actuality in a state of flux. The ones who have engineered the political instability after dividing the society to halt Pakistan’s economic progress must be sitting with cans of kerosene oil in their hands to fuel ongoing political polarization and instability.
PML-N, PPP, PTI, PML-Q, JI, JUI-F and PAT together with smaller regional parties are flexing their muscles. PTI-PAT nexus is eager to achieve their objectives by resorting to violent means, while PML-N leaders want NS to be absolved by the apex court and restored to power.
Hafiz Saeed heading Jamaatud Dawa and placed under house arrest has decided to enter the political arena by launching his party. Besides Samiul Haq party JUI (S) and ASWJ, all defunct extremist groups will join this party to save themselves from the claws of Raddul Fasaad. Possibility of grand alliance of religious parties like MMA cannot be ruled out.
The proxies on payroll of foreign agencies are eagerly waiting for the political duel to get out of control so that they can strike their targets with ease.
Daesh has been brought into Afghanistan by CIA-RAW for use against Afghan Taliban and Pakistan and to keep the pot of terrorism boiling for next 10 years.
Threat perception. Externally, Pakistan faces hostile India, Afghanistan and USA; lukewarm Iran, not-so-friendly GCC states. Sinister objectives of Indo-US-Afghanistan against Pakistan remain unchanged. Internally, war on terror is still raging with no end in sight. Politicians are at each other’s throats. PML-N relations with the Establishment and judiciary are tense.
Hoax of corruption and accountability
Is it not a fact that menace of corruption in Pakistan is endemic; it has seeped into all segments of society and the society suffers from moral decay? Political system is dogged by corruption. Can across the board accountability be undertaken without the accountability bill, which is yet to be framed and passed by the parliament, without an independent Ehtesab Commission and without correcting the flaws in criminal justice system?
Elites of Sindh notorious for corruption have saved themselves by framing their own accountability law to keep NAB at bay. NAB in KP was inactive till Gulalai’s revelation. Holy cows have remained above law. Articles 62 (1) (f) and 63 are most likely to be scrapped by the parliament since none among the parliamentarians pass the litmus test of these clauses.
If that be so, who will perform the surgery to remove the malignant part and cure the cancer of corruption? From where will we find honest and upright surgeons and if we succeed in finding some, will they be allowed to perform the surgeries of the entire elite class when seen in the backdrop of divided society, polarized political class, dynastic politics, curse of materialism, feudal nepotism, and lack of social justice?
Can this cancer be cured before first reforming the education system, carrying out ideological reformation of the society as a whole to upgrade moral turpitude, reforming the electoral system to elect morally clean leaders, reforming bureaucracy, and last but not least reforming the judiciary to dispense justice fairly?
It must not be forgotten that PPP has turned into a regional party and suffers from leadership crisis and internal malaise. Possibility of its revival is so far bleak. Political forces in Sindh are joining hands to end PPP misrule in Sindh.
PTI has no seat in Sindh and Baluchistan. PTI has failed to deliver good governance in KP since IK has shown disinterest in parliamentary affairs. It has not won a single seat in bye-elections and its performance in local bodies’ elections was dismal. It seems that PTI may lose power in KP in the wake of its opponents ganging up to move vote-of-no-confidence against Pervez Khattak. With so-called electable PPP leaders with murky past record swamping PTI, the party has lost its trumped up credentials of being a party of cleans. The reputation of IK himself is at stake. It has become a party of opportunists hungering to enter corridors of power. So, on what moral ground it claims to build Naya Pakistan and how does it qualify to start across the board accountability process if voted to power unless it first cleanse its own house?
PML-N is the only national party with strong roots in all the provinces including AJK and Gilgit Baltistan. NS is the lone leader who was elected PM thrice with heavy mandates, but each time he was ousted from power prematurely on unconvincing grounds. Yet, he has some feathers in his cap. He continues to act as a glue for his party and his appeal to his voters will be tested in the ongoing road journey. The way the sea of his supporters are welcoming him has dispelled the propaganda of PTI that he has lost his popularity. He is still the most popular leader of Pakistan. While Bhuttoism has kept PPP alive, sway of NS, which has further wired up because of the sympathy wave, will help PML-N to once again win next elections with a thumping majority.
It is still to be seen how the PTI and PAT reacts to the power show of PML-N, and whether it will have any impact on the judicial course. Reversal of the SCB decision is least likely, unless a larger bench is formed and it takes a lenient view and it calls off trial by NAB and reduces his disqualification sentence.
Judiciary had gained ascendency over the parliament after its July 28 verdict, but has come under pressure as a result of power show of NS and its credibility is under duress.
After NS, SS is the best bet for Pakistan. Besides his outstanding administrative skills, statesmanship, rich experience of handling problems of compound nature and leadership qualities, he is a go-getter, workaholic and indefatigable. He enjoys deep ties with Presidents of Turkey and China and has earned their respect. He is an asset for Pakistan and he has the capability, drive and willpower to build Naya Pakistan and none else. Although the critics will criticize this suggestion saying it will strengthen dynastic politics, but owing to leadership crisis, this factor may have to be ignored.
Under the circumstances, the preferred course open is to forge unity, let the political process continue unhampered, strengthen economy and save the country from external and internal threats, and work for smooth transition of power next year. Till then, carryout essential reforms, pass effective accountability bill and empower NAB. Other weaker courses open are across the board accountability without an apparatus and then elections, or abrupt change of regime followed by accountability.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence, security and political analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, editor-in-chief ‘Better Morrow’ and editor of web site ‘The Patriot’. Takes part in TV talk shows and delivers talks. [email protected]