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Nawaz Sharif: crying in the rain

By the time this article is in print, US President Donald Trump will have made his much-anticipated speech about America’s engagement in Afghanistan. Pakistanis should be prepared for essentially more of the same as what has been dished out to us since September 11, 2001. Back then, the US was lucky to have had a one-window war facilitating operation in Pakistan called General Pervez Musharraf.

For the next seven years, Pakistani men, women and children, soldiers, policemen, bureaucrats, and infrastructure served at the pleasure of Gen Musharraf. And because this pleasure was closely aligned with what the US wanted, Pakistan was rewarded with large amounts of money, directly and indirectly, mostly for our military – because our military is what is most attractive to the Americans.

In 2008, Gen Musharraf had to exit the formal corridors of power because the people of Pakistan had gotten tired of serving his pleasure. This realisation was triggered by a remarkable series of events that produced what we now call the lawyers’ movement. The lawyers’ movement began when the general decided to fire a chief justice that he didn’t like. It ended when the chief justice was reinstated two years later. Among the biggest casualties of the movement was the general. The biggest winner was a man named Nawaz Sharif.

Smartly biding his time until 2013, Sharif became prime minister for the third time, partly on the back of his central role in shaping a post-Musharraf Pakistani order. This order’s values were originally articulated in a document called the Charter of Democracy, signed by all the major political parties in London in 2006. Many of those values were then adopted as constitutional changes in the 18th Amendment. This amendment cemented the federal nature of the Pakistani state, and enhanced the democratic credentials of Pakistan’s much maligned politicians.

The promise of this new order was that it would permanently plug the cracks and fissures in Pakistan’s institutional infrastructure that have been used to short circuit the will of the people in favour of ambitious generals. In short, the 2013 version of Nawaz Sharif was one in which the office of the prime minister was bespoke for any democrat that sought to deepen and expand civilian powers in a country where civilians have historically been subservient to an overgrown and hypersensitive military elite.

All through these long sixteen years, whilst Pakistan reconstructed its democracy, reimagined its judiciary, and re-elected the favourite son of Punjab to high office, America’s engagement in Afghanistan meandered and spluttered along. Among the direct outcomes of wave after wave of unsuccessful US policy rethinks for Afghanistan – from Bush to Obama to Trump – has been the cementing of instability and uncertainty as the immediate present and near future of that country. And this presents the incentive for other countries to take measures that they perceive will protect their interests in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, this has included a continued relationship with anti-US groups like the Haqqani Network. For others, like India, it has meant that Afghanistan represents a greenfield of opportunities to punish Pakistan. And for others still, like Russia, it has meant taking advantage of the chaos and mayhem to address historical trauma and/or residual nostalgia from the USSR’s failure to arrest the mission creep that conspired with the mujahideen to defeat the Big Red Machine.

How Pakistan engages with a neighbour like Afghanistan, how it defends itself against an enemy like India, and how it manages a friend like the United States are all questions that have multiple answers. However, the debate in Pakistan is skewed, disjointed and unfair. If your answer to any of these big questions is different from the answers that Pakistan’s generals have, your answer doesn’t mean very much. The continuum that began with the Charter of Democracy and the lawyers’ movement in 2006 was essentially supposed to change this fundamental truth of Pakistani state and society. Over a decade later, today, after having been removed from office as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif claims he wants to continue that mission.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. For over four years, Sharif presided over a national security and foreign policy architecture whose exact objectives were never entirely clear and whose resourcing was perplexing, and sometimes laughable.

Everyone knows that Sharif is a champion for fixing the broken Pakistan-India relationship, but at every critical juncture, even when he made brave overtures to the Indians, it was not clear what the plan was beyond photo-ops. His one big chance for a breakthrough was very early in his term, when former commerce minister Khurram Dastagir Khan negotiated a new trade deal with the previous government in India. That deal was pulled at the last minute, and to this day, he had not spoken about why and how it was cancelled. Since Narendra Modi brought his sophisticated Hindu supremacist agenda to New Delhi, Sharif essentially responded and reacted to Modi’s quick-thinking statements and actions. All the while, instead of visibly owning the role of Pakistan’s defender in chief, Sharif happily allowed the Pakistan Army to establish a two-pronged narrative that has been instrumental in creating the circumstances of a broad acceptance of his disqualification by the Supreme Court.

The first prong of this narrative is that the positive changes in Pakistan since 2014 are the product of the blood shed by this country’s soldiers. The advantage the army has in peddling this prong of the narrative is that it happens to largely be true.

The second prong of this narrative is that politicians are inherently corrupt, and that this corruption is the basis for Pakistan’s political consensus, led by Sharif, for improved ties with India. The predilection for this kind of thinking within the security establishment is well-known. What has distinguished the last four years is the success with which this has been drip-fed into the national consciousness. How did Sharif allow himself to be painted to effortlessly as Modi-ka-yaar? In the answer to this lies the secret to much more than the civ-mil divide in today’s Pakistan.

Sharif’s defeat at the Supreme Court, his failure to take on and wrestle with parts of the support base for Imran Khan, and his clumsy efforts to appropriate credit for Pakistan’s remarkable fight against the TTP, the LeJ and various other terrorist outfits are all rooted in the same core quality that saw the en masse emergence of Whatsapp groups dedicated to tarring and feathering the Sharif family as disloyal Pakistanis: Nawaz Sharif found being prime minister of Pakistan to be boring.

For four years, the combined industry of Shahbaz Sharif’s manic work ethic, Fawad Hassan Fawad’s management of the bureaucracy, Ishaq Dar’s limitless appetite for control, and Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s post-dharna management of the media protected Nawaz Sharif from his apathy for his job, and his role. But the Panama Papers case finally drilled a hole too deep and too wide to be papered over. Sharif’s lack of preparedness for his role as a shaper of democracy in Pakistan has a much more important victim than Sharif himself: Pakistan.

Pakistan’s civil-military disequilibrium exposes this country to massive internal and external threats. The Lashkar-e-Taiba is now seeking to be a mainstream political force in the most important bye-election in Pakistan in a quarter century. American anger and bitterness at its own incompetence in Afghanistan is going to convert into targeted policies to punish Pakistan – whether or not Trump announces these explicitly or not is immaterial. Worse still, Afghanistan will continue to be a disaster for Pakistan’s internal stability. And perhaps worst of all, Pakistan has no coherent strategy to deal with democratic and secular India’s slide into becoming a Hindu Rashtra.

None of these problems were created by democrats, but all of them will eventually be solved by them. In his third term as PM, more than anything else, Nawaz Sharif demonstrated that he is not that democrat. His lamentations about the civ-mil disequilibrium are, therefore, reminiscent of Whitesnake’s David Coverdale ‘Crying in the rain’.

www.mosharrafzaidi.com The writer is an analyst and commentator.


Mosharraf Zaidi, "Nawaz Sharif: crying in the rain," The News. 2017-08-22.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Haqqani network , Foreign policy , Political consensus , Democracy , Corruption , Bureaucrats , Gen Musharraf , PM Modi , Afghanistan , Pakistan , TTP