Nawaz Sharif versus the Army

The rank and file of the Army seems uncomfortable with Nawaz Sharif who has developed a taste for assertiveness and who possesses the tendency to create cracks in the officer cadre  

Nawaz Sharif versus the Army

The Panama case reached its final phase after the submission of the ten-volume report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). It seems our entire society, political parties and the media have become partisans.

From the PPP to the PTI, the opposition has not only considered the JIT report to be the ultimate truth but has also forcefully urged the prime minister to resign. Similarly, from ARY to Bol, the media has demanded and predicted an end to the Sharif dynasty. 

However, a couple of political parties, namely, JUI (F) and Pk MAP chose to side with Nawaz Sharif. Same is true of Geo/Jang group. Both the pro-government parties and the media look to their material interests rather than any ideological commitment.

Importantly, the government itself seemed to have been under pressure and, to relax itself, hinted at some sort of conspiracy whose exact nature and character are unclear.

The fact of the matter, however, is that from Maryam Nawaz Sharif to Talal Chaudhry, every major PML-N leader has used bitter but obscure metaphors to expound the party’s strategy on (post)Panama politics.

Who is conspiring against the Sharif government? Why are pro-army media channels and parties, i.e. PML-Q, castigating the PML-N and the government? What can one get from DG-ISPR’s statement on the army’s neutrality in the Panama case? Hypothetically, will the army back the SC to implement its anti-Sharif(s) decision? These are very crucial questions in. The following is an attempt to contextualise it within the broader context of civil-military relations in Pakistan.

The Pakistani army has been central to politics and to the state since1947. It has ruled directly for 34 years, and in the remainder, has dominated state and society indirectly.

Interestingly, each martial law regime survived and prolonged its stay in power in connivance with a section of politicians, the civil bureaucracy and the judiciary. It was Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law regime which introduced new political faces and families such as Mian Nawaz Sharif’s family.

In the words of my mentor, Ayesha Siddiqa, “the military produced politicians throughout Pakistan’s history. From Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to Imran Khan, all major politicians are a product of the GHQ”. 

Though I agree with her structural analysis of Pakistan’s civil-military relations, I would only add another theoretical angle to the discussion: agency theory. The latter is grounded in rational choice models and argues that humans possess an inherent capability to make things happen. When applied to the case of Pakistan, it can help us understand intra-elite differences and clashes over material interests.

Thus, Nawaz Sharif, who became prime minister during 1990-93and 1997-99at the auspices of the army top brass, did in fact try to assert his constitutional prowess vis-à-vis the army. For instance, when General Kakar was COAS, PM Sharif developed serious differences with President Ishaq Khan.

With Kakar’s intervention, both Khan and Sharif had to leave office. However, PM Sharif’s agency prevailed over COAS Karamat when the latter resigned instead of staging a coup.

Nawaz Sharif’s tussle with other COAS did not end here. The next COAS, General Pervez Musharraf, with whom PM Sharif had serious policy and personal differences, was replaced with General Ziauddin. This move cost Sharif dearly.

If PM Sharif is disqualified and does not leave quietly — the Army is likely to back the judiciary. If Nawaz lives another day — his struggle is likely to persist until he reconciles with the organisation that nourished him

After 10 years of exile, Nawaz Sharif reentered Pakistani politics, courtesy the paradoxical NRO issued by Musharraf. In the 2013 election, Nawaz Sharif got elected as prime minister for the third time.

With 58(2)(b) no longer available, PM Sharif felt confident enough to assert his constitutional powers. From 2013 till 2017, he continued to somehow work against the set norms of the powerful army. For instance, he tried to normalise Pakistan’s relations with India.

 He also had differences with the army over Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the other day, he met with officials from Qatar. According to some media reports, he also did not extend the tenure of former COAS General Raheel.

PM Sharif was indeed lucky to survive the election rigging case and the Dawn leaks investigation. The Panama case, however, came out of the blue. The PTI, whom the PML-N and some former PTI people such as Javed Hashmi have termed the king’s party, took the Panama papers to the courts.

The inclusion in the JIT of two members from the two army-led institutions raised eye brows over their training, constitutional mandate etc. The latter was accused, among others, by Sharif’s son-in-law of invoking improvised “judicial 58(2)(b)”. Moreover, the prime minister himself accused the JIT chairman of corruption.

What one can deduce from the foregoing is the rank and file of the army seems uncomfortable with Nawaz Sharif who has developed a taste for assertiveness and possesses the tendency to create cracks in the officer cadre.

If PM Sharif is disqualified by the courts and does not quit office, the army is very likely to back the judiciary and if he survives another day, his turmoil is likely to persist until he reconciles with the organization that nourished him.

Postscript: Military agency is still intact and, hence, a coup cannot be ruled out.



The writer is Head, Department of Social Sciences, Iqra University, Islamabad. He is a DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright Fellow. He tweets @ejazbhatty



Published in Daily Times, July 22nd , 2017.