Who will Nawaz Sharif side with, Asif Zardari or the Pak Army?

Published: June 17, 2015
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A file photo of PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari's meeting. PHOTO: AFP

Asif Zardari speaks at a reception of party workers in Islamabad. PHOTO: INP A file photo of PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari's meeting. PHOTO: AFP

Threats, innuendos, taunts and then some more threats, in his speech yesterday, Mr Asif Zardari did not really address the newly-elected office bearers of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) at all. He instead targeted a different audience, one in uniforms. Tail, turf or toe, something got stepped on, resulting in the shriek that was a speech delivered by the “shrewd” Zardari.

Many who still believe Zardari to be the smartest of all politicians have started to question the wisdom in his outburst. Some already opine that his ability to outsmart all other political leaders speaks less of his marvellous mind and probably more of the brains that he was up against.

This lashing out was not impulsive, it all seemed well-planned. Senior leaders of PPP must have been consulted, followed by deliberations and decisions. It seemed like a poor decision, but not if it was the only option; a desperate last ditch effort to avert the impending. Furthermore, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s “foreign” visit to Pakistan may not have coincidentally coincided with his father’s outburst. Zardari probably needed Bilawal sitting by his side to ensure the entire support of PPP’s workers, or what’s left of it, when he made such strong statements.

But what is impending? What looms over PPP and Zardari’s heads that forced him to cry foul and hurl threats at the Army and ‘establishment’?

I remember when Rangers raided nine-zero in Karachi, PPP first attempted to side with Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), probably because they saw themselves next in line. They then went silent and prudently chose to wait their turn instead of expediting the process. Then a model was arrested at an airport with a whole lot of money that she intended to smuggle and launder. Revelations were made and the trails lead to PPP and Mr Zardari. Still under investigation, Ayaan Ali is believed to have given several names.

Moving to Zulfikar Mirza’s episode – his revelations about Zardari which were given credence to by a panicked reaction from the Sindh government, Rangers’ raid on the office of Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA), the expected extradition of Uzair Baloch to Pakistan and now NAB’s inquiry against former chairmen of the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) from PPP’s tenure – these are all factors that lead to yesterday’s oration. The noose is tightening and a suffocating Zardari gasps and shrieks for air.

The only problem is that Zardari’s decision, inspired by Altaf Hussain, to go down fighting may not pay off. It basically relies on the assumptive probability of an institution backing down. Not just an institution, but one which is currently more popular than a political party that is PPP – a party that has practically been washed from most of Pakistan and has some parts of Sindh as its last resting place. An institution that has taken a firm stance against terrorism and done much for its eradication, and has now taken it upon itself to root out ‘economic terrorism’ as well. An institution that has been forced to fill the vacuum created by political entities. And lastly, an institution that cannot afford to back down now.

Corruption, malpractices and misuse of authority, all have a nexus with terrorism. Left unchecked, these ills will help anti-state forces flourish once again – which is why the Army has added these to the ambit of its war against terrorism. It is not a conspiracy against political forces or democracy; they still have the option to get rid of these ills on their own, only they have chosen to show their reluctance time and again. The Sindh government has repeatedly been alleged of cooperating half-heartedly in the operation against MQM’s criminal elements, this cooperation is bound to seize completely when PPP comes under scrutiny, and this has been made abundantly clear now by Mr Zardari.

So what happens now?

As I said, the Army cannot afford to back down now and render ineffective its own efforts. If the Sindh government continues its role of an obstructer, instead of a facilitator, it may be sent packing. The prime minister may be ordered – ok, advised – to impose governor’s rule in Sindh. This order – I mean advice – will certainly put our Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a tough spot. If he sides with his “brother” and saves PPP from being kicked out of government, he may be seen as an abettor. If he continues to side with the people who are actually running the affairs, allowing him to enjoy his tenure as PM, he will offend his “brother” who may join forces with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in its second wave of movement against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, which is to begin soon after the Judicial Commission’s findings on General Elections 2013.

It is difficult to imagine how tough a spot this actually is for Mr Nawaz. He can choose to side with the political forces and “democracy”, a term that has the ability to wash away all your sins. PML-N, PPP and MQM can join hands to label this operation a conspiracy against democracy and then begin with their “sacrifices” and “struggle” for democracy. The PM may also anticipate that what began with MQM in Sindh, and is now engulfing PPP, will happen for PML-N in Punjab. This will add to his reasons for siding with PPP and not the Army.

However, such a confrontation will be devastating. It may force martial law, despite the unusual, refreshing and quite positive restraint shown till now by the military, probably for the first time in Pakistan’s history.

As a citizen of this nation, I side with the Army.  No, I am not anti-democracy, I want democratic forces and institutions to flourish and work for the people of Pakistan, to eradicate all ills including terrorism, corruption, nepotism and injustice. But I don’t see that happening. In the absence of political will, forced measures are the next best option. I want the military to show further restraint and abstain from abrogating or subverting the constitution, and I hope the menaces they fight can be defeated without derailing democracy, and only with derailing and defeating fake, vile “democrats”.

zafar.zulqurnain.sahi

Zafar Zulqurnain Sahi

A Lawyer by profession. A Gold Medalist in LLB from Punjab University and has a LLM degree from University of Warwick, UK. He is also a former Member Provincial Assembly of Punjab (2008-2013). He tweets @ZafarSahi (twitter.com/ZafarSahi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.