Sharif on the offensive

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And frayed Civil-Military Relations?

 

The federal government banning the exhibition of Pakistani film ‘Maalik’ about corruption at high places- eulogizing the deep state in the process- is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. Although the film portrays the fictitious Sindh chief minister as corrupt in the present milieu, apparently it also touched a raw nerve in the corridors of power at the federal level.

‘Since Panamagate, the demand for combating corruption at the highest echelons of our body politic is the new normal’

His progenies having off shore companies as revealed in the Panama leaks, the timing of the film’s release apparently did not amuse Nawaz Sharif. But perhaps the timing of proscribing it was worse.

Since Panamagate, demand for combating corruption at the highest echelons of our body politic is the new normal. Ironically the ruling PML-N instead of putting up a cogent and credible defence for specific allegations has embarked on a strategy of offense being the best defense.

Predictably truth is the first casualty in the shouting match between the PML-N and the PTI. Reportedly whoever is more abusive on the idiot box during prime time TV talk shows, receives a bigger pat on the back from their masters.

Imran Khan the PTI chief has always maintained that the Sharifs and the Bhuttos are corrupt to the core. Naturally his party stalwarts also echo the same sentiment.

Howver of late criticizing Zardari and his cohorts is conspicuously missing from the PTI’s narrative.  Having a newfound ally in PPP the Khan is circumspect about castigating his erstwhile nemesis. The other day when specifically asked the PTI chief lamely explained that he spares   Zardari, as at least he is not a congenital liar like Sharif.

The most surreal act of the present drama, was however the leaders of the opposition in the National Assembly and the Senate Khursheed Shah and Aitzaz Ahsan visiting the maverick Sheikh Rashid Ahmed at his Lal Haveli seeking his support. Such are the vagaries of politics that the Sheikh who has been consistently abusive towards the PPP leadership including Benazir Bhutto Shaheed is being wooed. This obviously could not happen without clearance from the top party leadership.

‘The PPP co-chairperson although has moved his ‘piyadas ‘led by master Bilawal against the Sharifs. But he is keeping his options open. He is quite capable of pulling the plug if it suits him’

All out efforts are being made to make the joint opposition moot at Aitzaz Ahsan’s isalamabad house scheduled for Monday a success. Most opposition parties agree that the TORs (terms of reference) to probe Panamagate should be more specific and time bound.

There is no agreement beyond that.   Whether the opposition parties will be willing at this juncture to launch a street agitation against the government, still remains unclear. The PTI wants Sharif’s resignation whereas the PPP or for that matter the MQM apparently are not yet willing to go that far.

The PPP co-chairperson although has moved his ‘piyadas ‘led by master Bilawal against the Sharifs. But he is keeping his options open. He is quite capable of pulling the plug if it suits him.

How the military plays it out remains the wild card in the pack.  Strains between the civilian and military leadership are already showing.

Post Army chief’s recent statement resolving to eliminate corruption linking it to terrorism followed by sacking of a few officers including two generals an uneqwuivocal message has been driven home to the civilian leadership: clean your Augean stables or otherwise?  Sharif can however no longer pretend that it is business usual.

For all practical purposes, his honeymoon with his khaki namesake seems to be over. Frequent meetings between the prime minster and the COAS are no longer the norm.  During the past three weeks the prime minister has not felt the need to summon general Raheel Sharif.

Nawaz Sharif has suddenly become proactive addressing public meetings with a familiar theme that his government is the harbinger of economic prosperity but certain elements are trying to pull him down. . Hence those opposing him are somehow against progress.

Who exactly is pulling his legs, he has not specified. Obviously apart from the PTI and the opposition in general perhaps it is a section of the media? Or perhaps it could be a swipe at the military leadership.

Sharif’s ministers and party stalwarts appearing in different talk shows have of recent been heard lamenting one institution (read military) encroaching upon the civilian government’s territory. It has yet to become a recurring theme however.

The military through strategic leaks pressers and tweets has successfully dominated the narrative. But it does not seem to be in a mood to do more at this stage.

In fact sacking of officers for financial corruption was in itself a very cautious if not actually a tentative move. No formal press release was issued. And the action was surreptitiously leaked through the social media.

At first it was claimed that the number of officers hauled up for corruption was twelve, and then the number we learnt were eight, but was eventually reduced to six. It was also learnt on good authority that this was a one off move not to be followed up with more sackings.

The manner in which general Musharrf was protected from being prosecuted and later allowed to leave the country speaks volumes about the selective nature of the accountability process.  The former COAS and dictator were able to go scot-free laughing literally all the way to the bank for his misdeeds.

Nevertheless Nawaz Sharif with his relations ostensibly frayed with the COAS has maintained the unsavoury distinction of not getting along any of his predecessors. But is the prime minister entirely to be blamed?

Critics contend with at least a patina of truth that the institutional thinking of the military does not allow unbridled powers to the civilian leadership. Perhaps it feels that the national interest is not safe in their hands.

That is why in the   conduct of relations with India, Afghanistan or even perhaps Iran the GHQ has a virtual veto.  Inversely speaking, the civilian leadership has also proved to be maladroit, non transparent and above reproach.

Perhaps it is a chicken and egg story? Or perhaps not! What stops Sharif appointing a full-fledged foreign minister rather than assiduously keeping the portfolio with him?

Similarly it took the prime minster seven long months to summon a cabinet meeting that should be held every week. And certainly it is not the military that stops him from attending the parliament the so-called repository of his power?

Sharif might survive this one too, but with a lot of collateral damage. He brazenly claims that he has already taken the nation into confidence about his assets. Too late and too little.

The money trail of his children’s assets abroad will remain a burning issue. Perhaps he is out to prove that politics is a completely amoral sport?

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. A good one. But Civilian Sharif has brought up with him and his brother some highly uneducated and totally uncouth lot of sidekicks like two Khawjas and like. Then Nawaz and Shabaz don’t trust their party men barring the two and couple of more. That is why both brothers hold more than one office. Mental and intellectual attributes are well known to people of Pakistan but it is their moral failures that are most disturbing to people not to them or their partymen and women!

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