Shahid M Amin
FOR the last many months, Pakistan has been going through a period of political uncertainty. As a result, the economy has suffered and Pakistan’s prestige abroad has gone down. The problem mainly revolves around the person of Nawaz Sharif, who was Prime Minister of Pakistan since May 2013 but was disqualified by Supreme Court in July 2017. It all began with the publication of Panama Papers on 3 April 2016, which came out with revelations about offshore companies with links to public figures in many countries, including the family of Nawaz Sharif.
Faced with growing criticism, he announced formation of a judicial commission under a retired judge of the Supreme Court. This could not materialize. In a second statement on 22 April 2016, he stated he would resign if proven guilty. Eventually, the trial under a five-member bench of Supreme Court began on 1 November 2016. The proceedings of the trial were covered at length by the news media. There was also the sorry spectacle of political leaders and legal experts, from both the government and opposition, indulging daily in mud-slinging and use of derogatory language against each other.
Nawaz Sharif trial has become the most publicised case in Pakistan’s history and has kept the nation on tenterhooks. It has not yet ended as several corruption references, arising out of the court’s judgment of July 28, 2017, continue and are likely to dominate public attention for several months to come. Nawaz Sharif should let justice take its course regarding allegations of corruption against him and his family. But what is becoming a cause of deep concern is the inexplicable public stance adopted by him. He continues to profess innocence and has openly questioned the judicial verdict in a language that amounts to contempt of court.
His rhetoric is at times insulting and even intimidatory. Mian Sahib is not the first person in history who feels aggrieved by a court verdict. Judges are not infallible and can make mistakes. But to question their good faith is tantamount to disrespect for judiciary and could erode public confidence in the due process of law. That will damage a key institution of the state and cause irreparable harm. But Nawaz Sharif is also talking in vague terms about sinister forces in the ‘Establishment’ who, according to his claims, are out to subvert justice. His statements might be interpreted to mean a thinly-veiled reference to the army, his old nemesis. But it is another key institution whose credibility must not be damaged.
Nawaz Sharif has sought to use his undoubted popularity with some sections of the population in Punjab to urge their defiance of the unnamed powers in the Establishment. After pleading his innocence, he asked the crowds what he should do. This is the kind of rhetoric that could incite protests and disturbances, which would be harmful for national security. As a patriot, Mian Sahib should know that nothing should be done that will harm Pakistan’s safety and welfare. Individual grievances, however justified, must not take precedence over welfare of the state. In realistic terms, Nawaz Sharif has no reason to despair. He remains the head of his PML (N) Party. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is his own nominee and his party continues to rule Pakistan. There have been parallel cases in other countries. In India, Sonia Gandhi could not herself become Prime Minister but continued to rule, though Manmohan Singh was made the Prime Minister. In Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei is the top wielder of power though Rouhani is the President. Nawaz Sharif should be wary of saying that the country is no longer doing well after his exit from power, because such pronouncements degrade his own party’s government.
It is time for Nawaz Sharif to call a farewell to arms. He has had an exceptionally long political innings. He came out of nowhere in 1980s, thanks to Governor Lt Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan, but he seized the opportunity and did well as Chief Minister Punjab. He became Prime Minister of Pakistan a record three times: in 1990, 1997 and 2013. He instilled a new life in the Muslim League after he took control. When in power, he was business-friendly and the country made economic progress during his tenure. In particular, Punjab province has changed a lot for the better during his rule. He will always be remembered as builder of motorways in Pakistan, like a modern-day Sher Shah Suri.
Though not the originator of CPEC, Nawaz Sharif must be given credit for having launched this epoch-making project in earnest during his tenure. It was under his leadership that Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched and achieved notable success in eradicating terrorism in tribal areas in northwestern Pakistan. The law and order in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan and its commercial hub, improved notably during his tenure. Though himself a product of Martial law, Nawaz Sharif later fought for democracy and helped to raise public consciousness of their democratic rights. In foreign policy, he had a vision of improving relations with India. Though he could not succeed, primarily due to Indian obduracy, this is the right objective which must one day be achieved for the good of millions of people in South Asia. Nawaz Sharif can look back with satisfaction on what he achieved during his political career. It would be folly on his part and a national disservice if he allows his personal frustration to undo what he has achieved during his political life.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin