Karachi Despatch | International

Game of thrones in Pakistan

As the world is hooked on the Game of Thrones season seven, Pakistan continues to experience its own power games, which have been playing out, in one way or the other, since the early 1950s. Typically, brief stints of civilian rule would be followed by decades-long military dictatorships. Even during the civilian terms, the military would play a decisive role in policymaking.

With the country once again facing political turmoil after the disqualification of Prime Minister Nawas Sharif in the Panama Papers case, the question being asked is whether history will repeat itself.

For now, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, an aide of Mr. Sharif, has taken over the premiership, while Senator Sardar Yaqoob Nasir has been named acting chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). But things are far from settled even within the PML-N. Mr. Sharif had earlier chosen his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as his successor. Within days, he took a U-turn, and decided to field his wife Kulsoom Nawaz as the candidate for the seat vacated by his disqualification.

A close Sharif aide told The Hindu that there might be differences between the wives or children of the Sharifs, but the two brothers are on the same page on critical issues. It’s not a secret that Pakistan’s military establishment had preferred the younger Sharif to lead the country. Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf had asked Shahbaz Sharif to take over the party when he overthrew the Nawaz government in 1999 but on his refusal, the family was sent into exile. Shahbaz Sharif’s position would be crucial this time as well.

Anger among PML-N’s supporters against the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif has been palpable. “Nawaz was thrown out on a minor reason of not disclosing his honorary chairmanship of his son’s company. Is this a joke? Definitely the military has orchestrated his ouster. Supreme Court judges were used as pawns,” a PML-N leader told The Hindu during the former Prime Minister’s “homecoming” rally from Islamabad to Lahore last week. Many party workers shared the same view. The military got annoyed after a story was published in Dawn daily last year, which claimed that the civilians were asserting control on the military to end its double game on militants. This prompted a long confrontation between the military and the government, resulting in the firing of two Ministers.

Fuel to fire

Ties with India added fuel to the fire. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Mr. Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding in December 2015 and a visit by Indian businessman Sajjan Jindal to Mr. Sharif’s personal residence in Murree hills angered the Generals. Some TV anchors considered close to the military even called Mr. Sharif a “a security risk”.

While the government is coping with a difficult transition, the main Opposition leaders are also facing serious charges that can affect their political careers. An accountability court has decided to put a corruption case against former President and Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Zardari on the fast track. Mr. Zardari faces allegations of amassing assets beyond his income. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan is facing a tough legal battle in the Election Commission over a fund-raising case. The Muttahida Quami Movement of Altaf Hussain has also been cut to size and broken into various groups.

Disarray among the civilian political leadership opens avenues for the military to interfere. Talks of a presidential model of government are already doing the rounds in the country. For the Pakistanis, it’s a déjà vu moment. They are being told, once again, who the real boss is.

MUBASHIR ZAIDI writes for The Hindu and is based in Karachi

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 4:35:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/game-of-thrones-in-pakistan/article19525025.ece

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