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The Dismissal of Nawaz Sharif: Its Impacts on Pakistan and the Region

Published Date: August 5, 2017

 

The Pakistani Supreme Court ousted Pakistan’s Prime Minister and the head of the Muslim League Party Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif due to the corruption cases. With Sharif added to the list, none of the Pakistani Prime Ministers in the 70 years history of Pakistan has ever made it to the end of their tenure.

The Pakistani Supreme Court started its investigation after the Panama Papers came out in April 2016 and Tehreek-e-Insaf party, with Imran Khan as its leader, fiercely criticized the Prime Minister for his involvement in the corruption cases. Three out of five judges of the Supreme Court considered the information gathered against Sharif as insufficient and, therefore, their decision was in favor of Sharif. However, in the meanwhile, they formed another group of six people for further investigations about the issue, and after their assessments, all the five judges of the Supreme Court said that the Pakistani Prime Minister was not “honest” and, hence, he was ousted from his position.

Nawaz Sharif did not challenge the verdict of the court and resigned shortly after the court announced its decision. Sharif announced Shahid Khaqan as his successor who also won the confidence vote in the Parliament.

Why and how was Nawaz ousted? How was his relationship with the Pakistani army and intelligence service? What will be the implications of his ouster on Muslim League party, Pakistan and the region? These are the questions that are analyzed here.

 

Nawaz Sharif and his Relationship with Pakistani Military

If one reviews the history of Pakistan, one will find out that a strong military and a weak democracy had always been dominant in this country. (Among the weak democratic governments in Pakistan, the exception was the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, which was overthrown by a military coup d’état by Zia-ul-Haq.)

A civilian politician, Nawaz Sharif is not an exception either. Nawaz has served thrice as Pakistan’s Prime Minister and twice as the Chief Minister of Punjab. In the beginning, the main reason behind his success was Zia-ul-Haq’s support. In 1990 Parliamentary elections, the strong spy services of Pakistan provided financial assistance to Nawaz’s coalition group the Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad against Benazir Bhutto.

After several years, Sharif’s government was overthrown by Pakistani President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Later when in 1997, Nawaz once again won the parliamentary elections, his government was overthrown by a military coup d’état in 1999. This time the difference was that Nawaz Sharif tried to prevent Pakistani Chief of Army Staff’s plane from landing in Karachi, but he failed and finally after the Kargil crisis, General Musharraf took power after a military coup d’état on 12 October.

Nawaz was imprisoned by Musharraf, and then with the mediation of Saudi Arabia, he went to Jeddah. He returned to his homeland in 2008 and took part in the elections; his party took over the government in Punjab, and in the central government, Muslim League formed a coalition with People’s Party but left the coalition later. In 2013, once again, Sharif’s party won the Parliamentary elections, and he became Pakistan’s Prime Minister for the third time. Nevertheless, in mid-2017, he was fired and, hence, could not complete his five-year tenure.  

 

Military’s role in the ouster of Nawaz Sharif

The former Pakistani Prime Minister was not ousted due to the revelation of Panama Papers or corruption, but it was rather due to his confrontations with Pakistani military since 2013.

After the formation of the government in 2013, the Muslim League Party (Nawaz Sharif) trialed the former Pakistani Military Chief of Staff. It was the first time in Pakistan’s history that a Pakistani Military Chief of Staff was being tried in the trial. In 2014, the leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf Party started demonstrations for allegations of fraud in 2013 elections. These protests prolonged for several weeks and created a crisis in Pakistan. At that time, the Pakistani media repeatedly telecasted reports about “Umpire’s” finger going up but nothing happened. By “Umpire” the Pakistani media meant Pakistani military.

In the meanwhile, in an interview after the elections, Nawaz Sharif told an Indian Media outlet that it was necessary for the civilians to have the upper hand in Pakistan and that the Prime Minister was the “boss” in Pakistan, not the Chief of Army Staff.

The gap between the military and Nawaz’s civilian government increased when the Pakistani Prime Minister tried to take over Pakistan’s security and foreign affairs, and to serve this end, he appointed Sartaj Aziz as the National Security Advisor as well as the Advisor for foreign affairs. However, after the demonstrations by Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif reconciled with the military and appointed the newly retired General Nasser Janjua as the new National Security Advisor.

Despite these developments, relations between the civilian and military administration were normal. Later according to a report published in DAWN, visiting the military, the Pakistani Prime Minister criticized military’s policy of using some “terrorist” groups as “proxies”.  This report was  known as “DAWN Leaks”, and the army fiercely criticized the civilian government for the disclosure of this report. Due to this pressure on behalf of the military, Pakistan’s Minister of Information was obliged to resign.

The Pakistani military was also directly involved in the dismissal of Nawaz Sharif because in the combination of the team that was appointed to investigate his case were a member of ISI and a military spy. Overall, the team had six members; therefore, it is quite probable that the military has played a solid role in the ouster of the Prime Minister.

 

The implications of Nawaz Sharif’s ouster

Sharif’s dismissal will, first of all, affect Pakistan’s Muslim League Party and sequentially Pakistan’s internal politics. Muslim League has been divided since the revelations of Panama Papers. That is why, the current Pakistani Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar, who is also a member of Muslim league, criticized some of the ministers for creating distance between him and Nawaz Sharif and, thus, were gradually marginalizing him.

On the other hand, whether how much the dismissed Nawaz Sharif will be able to keep Muslim League strong is a question that only time can respond. But the ouster of a Prime Minister who would in the past four years criticize the military over a series of issues will strengthen military’s stance and control in the internal politics. Moreover, Muslim League’s success in 2018 Parliamentary elections will also be under question and most of the people, especially in the urban cities, will vote the other parties particularly Tehreek-e-Insaf.

In the meanwhile, although there are a variety of analysis about the implications of Sharif’s dismissal on the region and particularly on Afghanistan, his ouster will rather affect internal politics than foreign policy because Pakistan’s foreign and security policy is at the hand of the Pakistani military and it was in their hands even in the past four years of Nawaz Sharif and; therefore, no change will occur in the foreign policy of Pakistan.

The end

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