Shahid M Amin
NAWAZ Sharif’s ouster from power is a defining moment in Pakistan’s history. However, he is not the first head of state or government in recent times to be removed due to corruption charges. Two Presidents of Brazil, one South Korean President, and one Prime Minister each of Iceland and Israel were accused of corruption charges and were either impeached by parliament or sent to jail by courts of law.
Lula da Silva served two terms as President of Brazil from 2003 to 2011. He was found guilty of corruption in July 2017 and sentenced to nine years in prison. His successor Dilma Rousseff was twice elected President. She was impeached by parliament in August 2016 for breaking budget laws. Park Guen-hye served as President of South Korea from 2013 to 2017. She was impeached by parliament for corruption and later removed from power by the Constitutional Court. She was arrested in March 2017 and jailed over high-profile corruption allegations. Ehud Olmert served as Prime Minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009. He was tried and found guilty of corruption in 2014 and released only recently after serving 16 months in jail. A close parallel to Nawaz Sharif is Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who was also named in Panama Papers for ownership of an offshore investment company. He resigned in April 2016 after mass public protests.
Corruption is endemic in many countries including Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif is not the only political leader to be accused of corruption. He may feel that he has been singled out for punishment, but somewhere a start had to be made. The unanimous judgment by the Supreme Court on July 28, 2017 to disqualify Nawaz Sharif sets in motion a precedent that should lead to the trial and conviction of other politicians as well as high-ranking bureaucrats. They must be held accountable for the misuse of public funds. It is a sad fact that Pakistan has been looted mercilessly by many of its rulers and their cohorts. Stolen funds have been stashed away in offshore companies. Swiss banks are said to have billions of dollars belonging to such Pakistanis. Had those funds been used for the country’s development, Pakistan would have been far ahead in all spheres. Yet these plunderers pretend to be innocent and manage to get elected in election after election. The system itself is at fault. The country has laws against those living beyond visible means of wealth, but their implementation has been almost non-existent. The time has come to prosecute and punish those who have used their high positions in government to loot the country.
It is a sign of maturity that Nawaz Sharif and his PML(N) have accepted and implemented the decision of the Supreme Court, despite their reservations. Their acceptance of the rule of law is commendable. The judiciary has demonstrated its independence. An interim government is now being formed without any bloodshed. The opposition is vibrant and the media is free. Democracy has been strengthened rather than weakened by this particular disqualification case. This augurs well for the country.
The world reaction to the removal of Nawaz Sharif has been muted. The international community is well aware that what has happened is entirely an internal affair of Pakistan. The Chinese reaction is noteworthy. A Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif is Pakistan’s “internal matter” and will not impact the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “We believe that the China-Pakistan strategic cooperative partnership will not be affected by the change of situation inside Pakistan. China stands ready to work with Pakistan to continue jointly building the One Belt and One Road. As a friendly neighbor, China hopes that all parties and sections in Pakistan can prioritise state and national interests, properly deal with their domestic affairs, maintain unity, stability, and keep focusing on the economic and social development. The all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan has withstood the test of times.”
Sharif had sought to improve ties with India, where there is concern that his removal might lead to deterioration in relations. However, though Nawaz Sharif and Modi had developed a certain personal friendship, India had continued to maintain a bellicose stance towards Pakistan. In any event, the new government in Pakistan will be headed by Muslim League (N), under Nawaz’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who would also seek to improve matters with India. The onus for mending relations rests with India. It must give up its baseless claims that the struggle of Kashmiri people for freedom is merely the handiwork of Pakistani agents or that there is continued cross-border intrusion by Pakistan. Peace can only be restored in Indian-occupied J&K by accepting Kashmiri demand for self-determination.
With China, USA, Europe, Saudi Arabia and Iran, there will probably be no change in Pakistan’s erstwhile policy. This is as it should be. Governments come and go but national interests remain the same. Stability in foreign policy is a sign of maturity. There is another area in which Pakistanis as a people need to show maturity. We tend to view our governments in highly partisan terms. Either the government is all good or all bad. The reality is quite different. Even those who oppose Nawaz Sharif must admit that CPEC and other policies followed by him have improved Pakistan’s economy. In fact, every Pakistani ruler in our history has been a mixture of good and bad. Totally one-sided opposition to the government in power merely demoralizes the people, when they are told constantly that nothing good is happening in the country.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin