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Old Monday, November 07, 2016
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Default Sharifs’ politics at stake

Sharifs’ politics at stake


By Mazhar Abbas


Third time Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is passing through one of the most difficult phase of his long political career following the 'Panama Papers' leak, which will come up for hearing in the Supreme Court today. Not only is his fate at stake but also that of his family. What possible alternate plan Sharif and PML-N) has to avert the crisis or as a result of any adverse order!

Sharif's legal team would be filing the replies of his three children – Maryam, Hasan and Hussain – and the Supreme Court bench is going to decide about the Terms of Reference (ToRs) and one-member judicial commission.

The prime minister his legal and political teams are confident to overcome the crisis but, the top PML hierarchy as well as Sharif's family are also holding serious deliberations on every aspect of the present crisis and also working on a possible alternate plan.

The Sharif family knows the importance of this case as not only the prime minister's own office could be in trouble but it might also badly hurt the dominance role of over 30 years of Sharifs in Punjab politics.

Sharifs are confident that they would win this legal battle as one of the family members on condition of anonymity said, “More than politics are at stake and it is the pride of the family. We will win and come out of crisis.”

PTI Chairman Imran Khan has certainly proved to be a much tougher opponent for PML-N and Sharifs then they had thought. There are three reasons for that. (1) He has not been tested, (2) has a clean record, unless prove otherwise, and (3) Punjab traditionally like aggression and Imran has that aggression like of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Thus he has left other opposition parties like PPP far behind him in popularity.

These are testing times for Sharifs and the PML-N government. Panama Papers is not the only issue which has put him and his government in trouble as there is 'Dawn leak' as well and a notification about the high-powered probe committee, headed by a retired high court judge and comprising senior officials of premier intelligence agencies, is expected in the next 48 hours.

The prime minister has also been left with little time to name the new army chief or give extension to General Raheel Sharif who will retire on November 29.

There cannot be two opinion about the fact that if Sharif loses this legal battle then it may also bring an end to his family’s politics, as the names of all his three children are there in Panama Papers and they too have to come out clean.

It is difficult to say as what must be going on in the mind of prime minister who in the past had survived many political crises and even came out from the death cell in 2001 but his political dynasty is at stake due to the Panama Papers issue.

He looked more confident than some of his ministers but as a matured politician he also knows that if he has to resign or is disqualified then his children's future politics would also face the same fate. He would certainly like the party to survive. Thus, he can hand over the PML-N either to his brother Shahbaz Sharif or the trusted senior party leaders.

There is little chance that the PML-N would go for early elections as they want to ensure its majority in the Senate whose elections are due in March next year.

An interesting observation was given recently for the first time by any senior PML-N leader that injustice was done to former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani when was disqualified after being convicted for contempt of court by the then Supreme Court bench headed by retired chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq said, “PPP had accepted the Supreme Court decision though injustice was done to Gilani, and we will also accept whatever decision the Supreme Court will give.”

These remarks are important because Sharif as the then opposition leader used all his clout to get Gilani disqualified. But the government survived and the PPP named Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as the new prime minister.

The statement is also seen as a hint that the PML-N may also follow the same procedure in case any adverse decision.

The only difference is that of a leadership. Gilani was not the head of the government, not of the party. Here Sharif is not only the prime minister but also the party head, re-elected only a month back.

Sharif twice lost his government for different reasons. In 1993, his government was dissolved under Article 58-2(B) on corruption charges but restored by a full bench of the Supreme Court. He, however, was asked to quit along with the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan under Gen Waheed Kakar formula.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court in Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan case had held that the 1990 elections were highly rigged and it had also been confirmed that money were distributed to ensure the victory of the then opposition, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). The then ISI chief Lt-Gen (r) Asad Durrani said it in his 'affidavit' submitted before the Supreme Court.

Sharif lost his second government on Oct 12, 1999 when he sacked the then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf before the expiry of his term and appointed Gen Ziauddin Butt, the then ISI DG, as new army chief. Musharraf was returning from Colombo when this decision had been taken, but the army refused to accept the new chief and finally the Sharif government was removed. He was also qualified along with Benazir Bhutto by Musharraf regime, though through handpicked PCO judges.

The PML-N could learn some lessons from Benazir Bhutto. When she was not allowed to contest the elections and disqualified in 2002, the PPP as a party was also barred from contesting the elections. This led to the formation of Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) and she named late Makhdoom Amin Fahim as its president.

Fahim remained loyal to the party and Bhuttos till his death. The PPPP emerged as the single largest party, but Fahim refused Musharraf's offer for premiership. "The problem was that the PPP could not share the government with a serving army chief as President of Pakistan,” he once told this writer.

After BB's assassination, former president Asif Ali Zardari survived and got his government complete its term despite problems not in civil-military relations after Memogate, Kerry-Lugar Bill and Abbottabad operation but some serious issues with judiciary.

The PPP survived the Swiss scam but lost the 2013 general elections on account of bad governance, corruption as well as serious threats from terrorists.

So, Sharif has lot more at stake than his dynastic politics. Can he survive this last major crisis before the next elections? If not, can he go for better alternate within the party and family to see PML-N retain its majority in the elections and survive?

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.
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