As was widely expected the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, 73, is back in Pakistan last week. He is three time prime minister and supremo of the Pakistan Muslim League [PML-N]. Now he is back in Pakistan after four years of self-imposed exile in UK. He left for UK in 2019 for medical treatment. Of course he had to sign applications at the Islamabad airport on his return on Saturday. These applications will be filed in the Islamabad High Court [IHC] Division Bench and are likely to come up for hearing on 24th October.
It should be recalled that the former prime minister was convicted in high-profile cases like Avenfield and Al-Azizia cases. Not only this, he was declared a proclaimed offender in the Toshakhana vehicle case, which is pending before the Islamabad accountability court. Imran Khan, another former prime minister and leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party [PTI], has strongly objected to the VVIP protocol given to Sharif upon his return. In fact this finely befits the vendetta political culture of Pakistan.
It is necessary to provide context to the present situation. On Friday, 6th July 2018, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam were sentenced for long jail terms. According to that judgment, Sharif would be behind bars for ten years while his daughter would be for seven years. They were found guilty in a corruption case related to the purchase by the Sharif family of four apartments in London. The London properties of Sharif family were revealed in 2016 in the Panama Paper leak. According to these leaks, these properties were bought with illegal money. The cases were filed against the Sharif’s by the National Accountability Bureau [NAB], Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog on the orders of the Supreme Court. Interestingly the judgment came just a fortnight before Pakistan went to poll on 25th July 2018. The idea was to immobilize Nawaz for the general election.
The return of Sharif will definitely impact of politics of Pakistan as it is set to hold the general elections in January 2024. Sharif’s younger brother Shehbaz Sharif was the prime minister from 2022 onwards till earlier this year. Then came the dissolution of the Parliament and reigns were handed over to the caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul Kakar, another army plant.
Though Sharif has come back, his journey will not be smooth. His maiden speech offers many hints about his future course of action. He seems to be keen on reorienting Indo-Pak relations. He was dot on target when he declared that no country can progress if it has frosty relation with its neighbours. He smartly quoted statistics to drive home his points about how Pakistan is lagging behind India on many development indices. Not only India, he further compared Pakistan with Bangladesh and openly complimented it for the economic progress it has been posting.
This new Sharif has been received in India with skepticism. And for some very valid reasons. Remember Kargil? Though the misadventure was largely blamed on the then army chief Parvez Musharraf, Sharif was in the know of it. Is this time going to be any different? Sharif is a smart cat who must have sensed the mood of Pak society. While India has landed on moon, Pakistan is moving around with a begging bowl. This indeed has hurt ordinary Pak person who has realized that like India, their political class too should focus on socio-economic progress. Nawaz Sharif seems to have sensed this new mood.
At the same it must be said that Sharif of late 1990s and Sharif of 21st century are different persons. He has many times talked of good relations with India. He tried his best to befriend Modi’s India too. Despite advice to the contrary he showed at Modi’s swearing ceremony in 2014. Rumours has it that this is why he had to pay for this in 2017 when he was ousted from power. Now again he is making a bid for power. Will he succeed this time? Much water has flown down the Ravi since 2017. If he still talks of good relations with India, why should Army trust him, back him?
This time, however seems different. In his pro-neighbour speech delivered near Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan, though he talked of economic progress, he did not attack the Army. Does it mean a secret deal with Army? Legal cases against him are dropped, his arch-rival Imran Khan is cooling his heels in jail. This does add up. Pakistan army seems to be keen on finishing off Imran and his party PTI. Imran is in jail, his many colleagues too are in jail. Those PTI leaders who are willing to make peace with the Army, are released slowly and steadily. Recent example is Sheikh Rashid, former minister. He was in custody for weeks, now is out of jail and is busy attacking Imran.
On the other side Imran is facing some very serious charges like coup against the Army on 9th May. He is not willing to build bridges with the Army. Now the ball is in Army’s court to show their professionalism and political neutrality. Given this situation, Nawaz is set to sweep the general elections of January 2024. It seems clear that with a secret deal with Nawaz, Army can happily go back to barracks and let Nawaz, a seasoned politician, run the show. In modern politics, optics are far more important and it is better to manage the King rather than become the King. It is a matter of time.