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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Clean-up of corrupt civil and military elements necessary for Pakistan’s survival

Pakistan is clamouring for across-the-board accountability and fortunately the judicial and military establishments think a major clean-up operation has become inevitable. This comes at a time when politicians are busy saving their money and skin

opinion Updated: Aug 01, 2017 08:02 IST
Shaheen Sehbai
Shaheen Sehbai
People celebrating the Pakistan Supreme Court decision against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Peshawar, July 28
People celebrating the Pakistan Supreme Court decision against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Peshawar, July 28(AFP)

As a hitherto lucky Nawaz Sharif was booted out from power, for the third time, last week, hardly a whiff of protest was heard. There was a deafening calm and a sense of relief all around, including the all-important security establishment.

I used the words “booted out” because his last two stints as prime minister were abruptly axed in 1993 and 1999 by Pindi boots—by Pakistan’s military establishment. But this time they intelligently stayed away and quietly, and rightly, gave confidence to the apex court judges as the Panama Papers’ judicial noose was enough to do the job.

The Sharif family had been caught red-handed with its hands, feet and neck deep in the cookie jar. Numerous cases of corruption, money laundering and violation of oath were detected to be tried now. There was relief because Sharif began his term by taking on the army on key national policy issues — how to combat terrorism and relations with India. He wanted a soft approach on both these fronts and like Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkish model, wanted to bring the army under civilian supremacy.

While he delayed action against the Taliban and pressed for a dialogue, the army thought precious time was being wasted and a stage came when a military operation was launched without the PM’s approval. Sharif was forced to cooperate with the highly successful anti-terror operation — at a later stage the prime minister even claimed credit for it.

On India, Sharif showed extraordinary courage and defiance, inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Lahore home after first attending his inauguration in New Delhil, never mentioning Kulbhushan Jadhav, a retired naval official arrested in Balochistan in March 2016, nor coming out strongly for the separatist movement in Srinagar.

Sharif even showed the audacity of inviting Indian tycoon Sajjan Jindal to his private residence at the hill resort of Murree, talking to him while strolling on the lawns to avoid monitoring. This could have been to either send or receive a message from New Delhi.

All these were highly annoying to the Pakistani army but it registered only soft protests inside closed doors and allowed him to continue, probably anticipating that the Panama Papers will ultimately, and quickly, bring him down through the constitutional process.

Some Indian voices were heard lamenting that a friendly or less inimical regime had ended in Pakistan, but deep inside their hearts many Pakistanis, and especially Kashmiris on both sides of the disputed border, must be feeling happy.

“Five wise men have given a 5-0 verdict. It’s good riddance on sound reasons,” said Riaz Hussain Khokhar, an expert on India-Pakistan relations and a former Pakistani high commissioner to India. “Sharif’s exit will have no affect whatsoever on Indo-Pak relations. There is no chance of any improvement because of Indian intransigence and New Delhi should take notice of official reactions in Beijing and Washington,” he said.

Khokhar’s comments should not be taken lightly by India as whoever succeeds Nawaz Sharif, most likely his brother Shehbaz Sharif, now chief minister of Punjab, will not be able to maintain a soft stand or keep quiet on issues like his brother defiantly did.

Shehbaz will only be a stop-gap arrangement for a few months as general elections are due next year and he would have to keep his family and the party intact amid a plethora of criminal cases that will open against all of them, including Shehbaz.

A family hounded by sleuths who are going all around the globe to find hidden treasures looted from Pakistan would have a very hard time projecting an image of innocence to the electorate or claim sympathy or political martyrdom. It will take a hit.

The rule of law unleashed with the unseating of the first family of politics, especially from elitist Punjab, will have to be extended to others, including the equally rich former president Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party and the corrupt elements in the civil and military establishment.

Pakistan is clamouring for across-the-board accountability and fortunately the judicial and the military establishments, at this particular time, also think a major clean-up operation has become inevitable — in fact it is a necessity for the nation to survive the grave strategic and economic challenges it is facing.

With politicians busy saving their money and skin, the momentous task of keeping Pakistan afloat, watching out and responding to the serious regional and international realignments fall to the lot of others.

The remote will become the main instrument of control.

Shaheen Sehbai is a senior Pakistani journalist

Twitter: @ssehbai1

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 31, 2017 13:20 IST