Nawaz Sharif’s ET politics

Updated 25 May 2018


FORMER prime minister Nawaz Sharif claims he is up against an extraterrestrial species or aliens (khalai makhlooq). He is certainly not alluding to a character in Steven Spielberg’s epic thriller E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The ousted leader would not elaborate on what he really meant. But it is too obvious to miss.

It is the ubiquitous ‘security establishment’ that Sharif seems to be blaming his predicament on; the same ‘invisible forces’ that are believed to have initially propelled him to power three decades ago and that were also responsible for the overthrow of his second government. It all may sound a bit disconcerting yet it does illustrate the political game of chess we have been witnessing.

Sharif may be right about the stand-off with the military, but it is not the only reason for his miseries. While the role of the ‘invisible hand’ in political scheming cannot be disputed, the responsibility lies with the civilian leadership too. Sharif is certainly not telling the whole truth. It is not just the irresolvable conflict with the military but also his hubris and utter disregard for democratic accountability that has brought about his downfall.

Sharif’s claim of turning to ‘ideological’ politics sounds pretentious. There is certainly no principle involved in his latest political campaign for self-preservation. It is questionable whether his rhetoric about khalai makhlooq would have many takers, however plausible it may sound. The reopening of the Asghar Khan case by the Supreme Court at this stage has certainly played against both sides — Sharif as well as the military.

Most intriguing is the timing of the court action in the long-forgotten case that had brought to the surface what is perhaps the sleaziest political scandal in the country’s history. It has exposed the dark side of the security agencies being used for the manipulation of the electoral process through money and power. Most shocking is the blatant rationalisation of such actions by those involved in political engineering at the time.

The military is not the only reason for the former prime minister’s current miseries.

It was not just about the machinations of the top security leadership then but also a whole lot of political leaders who were willing partners in the crime. Interestingly, it was Nawaz Sharif who was the leader of the pack. He was the chosen leader of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) cobbled together in 1989 by Gen Hamid Gul, the then head of the ISI to counter the PPP led by Benazir Bhutto.

It all happened during the 1990 elections after the ouster of Benazir Bhutto’s first government in what is described as a ‘constitutional coup’. Millions of rupees were distributed among the IJI leaders for financing their election campaign. It was part of a wider plan to bring the IJI to power. Moreover, it was not just money but also alleged rigging that was used to thwart a PPP victory. That’s how the IJI came to power with Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister.

The scandal came to the surface when former ISI chief Asad Durrani spilled the beans a few years later in 1995. It was the veteran political leader Asghar Khan who then took the case to the Supreme Court. In his affidavit submitted to the court, retired Gen Durrani gave a list of the names of dozens of politicians to whom he had paid money on the instructions of Gen Aslam Beg, the then chief of army staff.

It was the most damning indictment of both the military and the civilian leadership in a scandal that shook the country. But the case was put in the deep freeze after a few hearings following Sharif’s return to power in 1997 for the second time. The hearing was resumed in 2012 and the court ordered the law-enforcement agencies to take legal action against all those involved in the scandal. The instructions were never implemented. Now the apex court has reopened it yet again.

For sure, it was not the first or the last time the political process has been tinkered with by the security agencies, thus causing the electorate to lose faith in the system. Most troubling, however, is how political leaders again and again fall into the trap, willingly doing the bidding of nondemocratic elements and thus undermining the entire system. One major reason is the politics of expediency; most believe that it is the way to power.

It is also something to do with the lack of principles and a democratic ethos. Even when elected, there is little focus on governance and delivering on promises. It is also a fact that the security agencies are blamed for everything that goes wrong with political parties in the polls. One such example is Imran Khan’s allegation that the security establishment plotted against the PTI, thus causing the party to lose the 2013 elections in Punjab. Interestingly, it is the PTI which is generally accused of being backed by the security establishment. The latest Senate chairman election is cited by the PML-N as evidence of this.

But the most amusing claim has been made by Chaudhry Shujaat Husain that manipulation by the then army leadership was responsible for the defeat of his PML-Q in the 2008 elections. His is the same party that was created by the military leadership, splitting the PML-N after the 1999 coup that ousted the Sharif government. Such lamentation appears to be a case of the jilted-lover syndrome that some elements patronised by the security agencies suffer from.

Surely it is imperative that the Asghar Khan case be taken to its logical conclusion. It will set a positive precedent for reforming our political system and stopping political engineering by the security agencies. It is indeed a hard task given the fragility of our democratic political system. More important is for all democratic political parties to come together to reform the system from inside and strengthen democratic institutions.

This must especially be a lesson for Nawaz Sharif. There is no point in crying oneself hoarse over khalai makhlooq. It is time the disgraced leader at least accepted his own mistakes and showed respect to his voters.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2018