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March 9, 2009

Is the pot calling the kettle black?

Top Story

March 9, 2009

The spectacle of Nawaz Sharif playing the role of champion of democracy and an independent judiciary would be great comedy if it weren’t so tragic. A businessman transformed into a politician on the knee of the bloody dictator Ziaul Haq who proclaimed at the despot’s gravesite “I will fulfill your mission Shaheed General Sahib,” suddenly now is trying to convince everyone that he is hope of Pakistan. Is he still fulfilling Zia’s Machiavellian mission of amassing total power while pretending to be principled and Islamic? Just as Zia played on hatred for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is Nawaz Sharif creating hatred of Asif Zardari to capitalize on it to become Amir ul Momineen? In his career Nawaz Sharif has fought with three civilian presidents (Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Farooq Leghari, and now Asif Zardari), five army chiefs (General Aslam Beg, General Asif Nawaz, General Abdul Waheed Kakar, General Jehangir Karamat and General Pervez Musharraf) and two Chief Justices (Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and now Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar). In doing so he has played to the gallery in urban Punjab with the help of a powerful media machine that does not discuss his shortcomings but helps him cultivate the image of a strong man who does not budge from his stance. In each case, once he had accomplished his immediate objective Nawaz Sharif always compromised to the detriment of civil society. The country always plunged into a new crisis each time Mr Sharif pursued the politics of confrontation. In the 1990s, Mr Sharif’s “strategy” gave us unstable civilian governments and the consequent rise of the Taliban, culminating in the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf. One wonders what Mr Sharif’s latest round of street politics will bring to the country. The politician Nawaz Sharif was created from whole cloth by the dictator Zia. He was handpicked by former ISI Chief and Governor Punjab General Gilani and dirty tricks chief Brigadier Imtiaz and given a

ministry. Zia made him Punjab’s chief minister. One of the more memorable displays of Nawaz Sharif’s respect for democracy came when he cheered Zia for dissolving Pakistan’s Parliament and dismissing the government of his own party in May 1988. During Nawaz Sharif’s second stint as prime minister the Supreme Court was invaded by his party-men forcing the judges to flee. Pakistanis have certainly not forgotten that the attack took place because Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, the then Chief Justice, had summoned Nawaz Sharif for contempt of court, and it seemed likely to many people and commentators that he would be charged. A few hours after the Supreme Court invasion, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appeared on TV and spoke to the benefit of everyone’s ear that the people of Pakistan had elected him to serve them and not make rounds to a court. Mr Sharif’s confrontation with the first PPP government in 1988-90 is legendary. Horse-trading during that period is well documented and there are also allegations of Osama Bin Laden contributing 35 million rupees for the vote of no confidence against the Benazir Bhutto government. Mr Sharif, who now does not tire of citing the PPP’s martyred leader, used to call Mohtarma a security risk and an instrument of foreign powers. Then, as now, his ally in the scheme was the Jamaat-e-Islami. When the no-confidence vote and horse-trading could not bring down the PPP government and install Nawaz Sharif, his invisible supporters sought another route for power for Nawaz Sharif. Naseerullah Babar disclosed in the National Assembly in 1994 how the politicized ISI had disbursed funds to purchase the loyalty of politicians and public figures so as to manipulate the 1990 elections, helping the IJI formed by General Hamid Gul to bring the defeat of the PPP. Even the Supreme Court headed by Chaudhry Iftikhar never heard and decided the petition by Air Marshal Asghar Khan on the subject. In 1993, the Nawaz government was sacked, and the caretaker chairman of the accountability committee, Zahid Sarfraz proclaimed: “Never in the political history of Pakistan and for that matter, in the history of the entire world, a prime minister and his family have manipulated and devised policies to suit their personal business interests as the deposed Prim Minister Nawaz Sharif did. Even a cursory probe into economic, fiscal and taxation policies of past governments reveals that its recurring single point agenda was to find ways and means to grab money and accumulate wealth.” The relations of Nawaz Sharif, as Prime Minister, with Washington were uncomfortable during his first as well as second term. Among the indicators of the USA’s distrust of the bona fides of the Nawaz Administration were its placing Pakistan for six months from January 1993 on the so-called watch list of State-sponsors of international terrorism and forcing Sharif to remove Lt Gen Javed Nassir from the post of DG of the ISI Directorate, and shift 20 other officers from the ISI for not cooperating with CIA efforts to persuade the Afghan Mujahideen groups to sell back to the US the unused Stinger missiles and for not taking action against Arab terrorist elements operating from Pakistani territory. Britain shares the US distrust, where Nawaz Sharif was referred to in the UK press as “perpetually scheming.” Nawaz Sharif’s duplicity transcends US-Pakistani relations and his association with dictators and militants. His electoral track record is abysmal. He was a tool of the regressive forces of the country in attacking Benazir Bhutto and the PPP in 1988, accusing her of treason, being an Indian agent, and assorted nonsense. He then proceeded to bring a cascade of trumped upped judicial charges against Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari and the other leadership of the PPP and other opposition parties. He did everything possible to manipulate and rig the judiciary, which maked his sudden championship of judicial independence ludicrous. Nawaz Sharif’s shortsighted politically motivated cancellations of all independent power producing contracts in 1997 are the reason for Pakistan’s perennial electricity shortages today. In 2007, it was Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari who reached out to this man who had mauled them and caused them so much personal grief. They forgave him, entered into a political covenant with him. Benazir Bhutto did everything in her power to encourage him to contest the National Assembly elections in 2007. After her assassination, it was her husband who personally intervened to have the elections continued and encouraged the PML-N to fully contest those elections in all provinces. Asif Ali Zardari, who spent eleven years in prison because of the actions of Nawaz Sharif, turned out to be the saving grace of the PML-N by insuring that they would contest and be in the Parliament. While in prison, Zardari personally looked after Nawaz supporters who had been incarcerated by Musharraf. Asif Zardari was the bridge to the PML-N and to Nawaz Sharif. His reward was to be stabbed in the back that had nothing to do with judicial independence. There appears to be a pattern at work here. From Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Aslam Beg to Asif Zardari, everyone who did a good deed for Nawaz Sharif has been paid back with an attack by him. No wonder Ijaz ul Haq, the son of the man who launched Mr Sharif’s political career (General Ziaul Haq) is in the PML-Q and not in PML-N. When Benazir Bhutto and other party leaders were disqualified from running for office in the past, she passed the mantel of parliamentary leadership on to others, and encouraged her party to remain within the system and to be the “loyal opposition.” She, unlike Nawaz Sharif, refused to accept repeated offers for charges against her to be withdrawn if she ceased political operations. Her husband, beaten and tortured in prison, refused to accept a “pardon” for crimes he did not commit. Nawaz Sharif, who now claims that the convictions against him and his brother were invalid because they took place after a military coup, did not hesitate to accept the “deal” offered to him by Musharraf to go into exile and live like a King in Saudi Arabia, accepting the verdict by agreeing to a pardon for his crime. The contrast with Bhutto and Zardari has little to do with politics. It has everything to do with honor. After Benazir Bhutto was brutally murdered, the PPP did not take to the streets but rather re-formed around new leadership and successfully contested elections. The PML-N would do well to follow this democratic model, not appeal judicial decisions to mobs on the street that threaten the federation and threaten international aid to Pakistan. The party should agree to new leadership that can lead the party in the months and years ahead under a democratic framework, the rule of law that can someday restore the Sharifs, legally, to power and governance.

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