Shahid M Amin
NAWAZ Sharif suffered a big blow on July 6, 2018 when he was sentenced by a NAB court to 10 years in prison on corruption charges. A year earlier, the Supreme Court had disqualified him from holding public office. Actually, his misfortune began with Panama Papers leaks in 2015, which revealed that four posh London properties were owned by two companies controlled by him while holding public office. In a way, Nawaz Sharif is himself the author of his fall. When the Panama Papers came out in 2015, he could have simply kept a low profile to let the dust settle down. Instead, he decided to prove to parliament that his family had acquired properties abroad through fair means. He offered to refer the matter to a court of law. That started the judicial process which first saw his disqualification and now his conviction. During the trial, he and his two sons and daughter issued contradictory statements, which damaged the credibility of his defence. At the end of the protracted trial, the hard fact was that he could advance no credible explanation as to how the London properties were acquired where his children have been residing for many years. Pakistan’s law holds an individual responsible for corruption even if the assets are in the name of his children and wife, provided they have no independent source of income.
Nawaz Sharif sought all along to discredit the fairness of the trial by repeated innuendos against the Army and Judiciary. After his conviction, he told the media: “I will continue my struggle till the people of Pakistan are not freed of the slavery imposed on them by some generals and judges.” Nawaz Sharif swears by democracy and keeps condemning dictatorship, but seems to have a short memory. His track record shows that his rise to power began during General Ziaul Haq’s Martial Law and he remained the dictator’s favourite till his death in 1988. Thereafter, Nawaz Sharif emerged as Ziaul Haq’s successor and defender of his legacy. Nawaz Sharif took the military’s help in 1988 election, when IJI was reportedly formed by ISI, in order to defeat Benazir Bhutto. He was a recipient of funds from ISI in the Mehrangate scandal in 1990. This is the truth about his opposition to dictatorship and his stance against the military’s role in politics. He laments that Prime Ministers are not allowed to complete their term, but he never protested when Junejo was sacked by Ziaul Haq in 1988 or when his opponent Benazir Bhutto was sacked in 1990 and 1996 respectively. Of course, he is bitter about his own sacking.
Nawaz Sharif also has double standards towards the judiciary. He is now its vocal critic but in 1993 he was restored to power by the judiciary after his sacking by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. He applauded the judiciary when it twice upheld the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto. When he became Prime Minister in 1997, he clashed with Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and, shockingly, the Supreme Court was physically attacked by his supporters. He had then shown no respect for the judiciary. But when lawyers started an agitation in 2007 against President Musharraf’s decision to sack Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Nawaz Sharif came out as champion of the judiciary. After Justice Chaudhry was restored, he frustrated the writ of government not only in the remaining period of Musharraf but also during the PPP rule. He set aside the law in order to absolve Nawaz Sharif of his past convictions. Nawaz Sharif had applauded the ‘judicial activism’ of Justice Chaudhry, but finds fault in activism of the current Chief Justice Saqib Nisar. The conclusion has to be that when the Army and Judiciary help Nawaz Sharif’s cause, he is all for them, but when they are not serving his purpose, he sees ‘malicious conspiracies’ not only against himself but also against Pakistan.
The Nawaz Sharif saga brings to the fore the issue of civil-military relationship in Pakistan. No doubt, the army has seized power in Pakistan on four occasions and ruled for nearly 34 years out of 70 years of our existence. The record shows that Pakistan’s economy performed better under military rule. Pakistan was even cited as a model developing country under President Ayub Khan. But military rule lacks legitimacy and has no system of succession. World opinion is increasingly in favour of democracy. Unfortunately, the record also shows that the democratic period in Pakistan has seen rampant corruption and misrule. In fact, our politicians are vocal about democracy, not for its values of freedom of speech and equality of all citizens, but because it gives them the chance to enjoy/misuse the perks of power. Our political dilemma is that military rule gave stability and economic progress but was dictatorial. Democratic rule in Pakistan gave more freedom but the economy suffered, corruption grew and there was political instability. In truth, there would have been no military intervention if the civilians had done their job.
But all is not lost for Nawaz Sharif. His party is likely to remain a force in politics. He can take pride that his contribution while in power helped to make Pakistan stronger viz. the nuclear tests, better road network and launching of CPEC. Even in his fall, there is reason for hope. His conviction will discourage other politicians from corruption. The prospects are better today for success of democracy in Pakistan, because our media is free and accountability process is much more rigorous. Therefore, any military intervention is highly unlikely because it will be opposed both internally and externally.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.