Major political crisis is brewing in Pakistan
Sharif’s battle for political survival received a serious blow when an apparent internal revolt brought down his party’s government in the troubled western province of Balochistan. Sharif has blamed the security agencies for manipulating the fall of the provincial government.
Political loyalty has never been a virtue in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan. Yet the provincial chief minister losing his majority overnight and disparate political parties coming together lends credence to the conspiracy theories about the security establishment being involved in political reengineering in an effort to undermine Sharif.
Balochistan was the only province beside Punjab where Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) was in power, although the party controls the central government as well. More intriguing is the installation in power of a minority party with the support of PML (N) rebels and opposition groups.
It is evident that, not only did security agencies ignite the in-house revolt, but they also ensured that it succeeded. The removal from power of staunch Sharif loyalist Nawab Sanaullah Zehri just weeks before the important mid-term Senate elections has changed the political dynamic of the country.
The Balochistan episode has intensified the showdown between Sharif and the deep state. While the ousted PM remains defiant, the security establishment has made it clear that he will not be allowed to return to power. The confrontation is getting messier, with Sharif vowing to take the battle to the bitter end.
But the danger is that this no-holds-barred confrontation may spin completely out of control. The Balochistan saga has demonstrated the power of the deep state and its apparent ability to manipulate the system from within, completely subverting it. This showdown just a few months before the general election is ominous.
Collapse of Balochistan provincial government has intensified the showdown between former PM Sharif and the deep state, and now the danger is that this no-holds-barred confrontation may spin completely out of control.
Now the battleground has shifted to Punjab, Sharif’s citadel of power. The charge is led by Mohammed Tahir-ul-Qadri, a fiery and controversial cleric who also heads his own religious-cum-political party Minhaj-ul-Quran. A Canadian national, Qadri has been campaigning for the removal of the Punjab provincial government led by Sharif’s younger brother Shehbaz, who he blames for the deaths of 14 Pakistan Awami Tehreek members in a police action in 2014.
A judicial commission report into the incident has given impetus to his anti-government drive and he has brought together almost all the major opposition parties on this issue. Now the younger Sharif, who is a nominee for the office of prime minister in the coming general election, is also in the eye of the storm.
With all the opposition parties ganging up against him and the possibility of brewing discontent within the PML (N) turning into a full-scale rebellion, the ousted leader finds himself pushed into a corner. His political fate now hinges on the outcome of his trial at an anti-corruption court.
Sharif, who was removed from his third term as prime minister last year after being found guilty of dishonesty, is now facing a litany of corruption charges that also involve his children. The court has issued arrest warrants for his sons Hassan and Hussain, who both live abroad. That leaves Sharif with few options other than going down fighting — but many believe that he is fighting a losing battle.
It is, however, not such a straightforward situation. While Sharif is on the warpath, taking on the two most dominant institutions of the state, his party still rules both central government and the most powerful province of Punjab. Despite being removed from office in what has been described as a “judicial coup,” he still heads the ruling party and continues to guide the federal government.
A major crisis is waiting to happen as Sharif’s corruption trial comes to a conclusion. If Sharif is convicted, it could compound the predicament of the federal government run by his loyalists. It remains to be seen how the other institutions of state, particularly the military, would act in that situation.
• Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC.
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