Ever since the Uri terror attack on India led to a storm of war gathering over the Indian sub-continent, a cauldron of hate has been poured by nationalistic Indians on Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. There have been some voices, however, who have managed to keep themselves from falling prey to this frenzied display. Those voices argue that the Indian Republic should actually target the real threat to the country from Pakistan – the real leader, not the titular figurehead. Their contention has been that Nawaz Sharif is but a puppet in the hands of the powerful Army chief General Raheel Sharif.
Yes, those voices are right. The Sharif in shalwar-kameez is not India’s real enemy; it is the Sharif in the Khaki uniform. Anyone dealing with Pakistan knows this very well. In fact one can even assume that Nawaz Sharif is a politician who wants to take his country forward and is ideologically polar opposite to the intentions of his military chief of his country.
But most voices stop short of looking beyond that obvious rationale. Isn’t Sharif an elected leader? He is a prime minister of a democracy, howsoever frail it may be! Yet Sharif has become the anti-India face in the international community all of a sudden. Why, you ask? Let’s see.
If we probe a bit we will discover that the man in shalwar-kameez is trying to hide dirty secrets underneath his garments from his own people, which is why he is trying to draw their attention to something else.
Now let us see what exactly Sharif sahib is hiding.
Ever heard of the Panama Papers? Yes, the massive leaks of April this year which exposed the high and mighty names holding offshore entities across the world?
The names of Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz and his two sons Hussein and Hassan figured in the papers against holdings of four offshore companies. That scandal caught Sharif unawares and the Opposition parties, especially Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), gunned for his head.
Now if you note carefully, the leak happened a few months after January’s Pathankot attack. And even after India accused Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed for the Pathankot attack, Sharif did not get into a combat mood as he is now. Following the Pathankot attack and before the Panama Papers, Sharif himself said that his country will assist in the investigations to determine if Pak soil was used and a team of investigators from Pakistan accessed the Indian Air Force base themselves for the joint probe.
Then, in early April, the Panama Papers happened. Things started changing in Pakistan immediately after that. The JIT, expectedly, refused to acknowledge the evidence provided by the NIA. Sharif found himself at the centre of a raging controversy that threatened his position of power. Opposition forces, especially the fierce Imran Khan, who was already at his throat over the 2014 deaths of 14 supporters of a cleric at the hands of police, were gaining momentum and started holding massive rallies against Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government.
Things can easily go out of hand in the volatile political landscape of Pakistan. But Sharif has managed to hold fort. On October 3, Sharif chaired an all-party meeting to discuss India’s surgical strikes. That meeting was also attended by members of PTI. The Pakistani media hailed it as a great display of solidarity.
Between April and October, Sharif found a huge opportunity to salvage his reputation and divert the attention of the people from the Panama Papers and other potholes in his governance. That opportunity arrived with the Indian Army’s killing of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist, in Kashmir.
Sharif used Wani as a tool to pump up the nationalistic sentiments of his countrymen. He used Wani’s image to divert the discourse from corruption to nationalism. And look at how he succeeded!
But the Panama Papers are not the only reason for Sharif’s belligerent avatar. The other reason is his renewed understanding of Pakistan’s politics.
It was 1999 and the Pakistani prime minister was in power when a coup d’état by Pervez Musharraf ended with him in exile — it took him 14 years to return to power. Sharif’s fault? He tried to punish the former army chief for the Kargil ‘misadventure’.
Pakistan’s political leadership may have undergone significant changes since 1999 for the sake of democracy but the military leadership remains unchanged and unbridled. This is why Sharif will never ever go against his army.
He has learnt a very valuable lesson: in Pakistan’s politics, you do as the army says or get out of the country. And Nawaz Sharif won’t risk another exile, for that would mean a political seppuku for him.
If one carefully notes, Sharif has not done anything to annoy the army even slightly ever since his tenure as the 20th PM of Pakistan began.
And there is a bit of economics behind Sharif’s kowtowing the army line, too.
You know all about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), don’t you? That mammoth $46 billion investment (now raised to $51.5 billion) helped raise Pakistan’s economic growth rate. To convince the Chinese that the CPEC, running from Kashgar in China to Gwadar in Pakistan, will remain free from security threats, General Sharif himself went ahead with the Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014. He eliminated ‘anti-Pakistani terrorists’ and by the end of that year the CPEC was signed.
If the CPEC hadn’t happened, Pakistan’s economic prospects would have been in an abject state because other international investors have only drawn their hands back. Without China’s assistance, Pakistan is nothing, and Sharif knows this. So Sharif is also under pressure from Beijing to ensure that the CPEC goes well. And how does he do that? Well, wipe out Balochistanis from around Gwadar. But to do so, he has to ensure that the focus of the world remains on something else — Kashmir in India.
Yes, Sharif has now reportedly called for action against Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the completion of the probe on the Pathankot terror attack, but notice the words in the statement: “Military-led intelligence agencies are not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action…”
That the ISI is being specifically asked not to “interfere” tells a lot about how terrorists continue to thrive in Pakistan with help from its own intelligence agency. And Sharif can do nothing about it because he wouldn’t want a repeat of 1999.
Sharif’s government has also ordered the restarting of trial in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and a conclusion to the Pathankot probe. Expect them to be inconclusive. Pakistan will never admit that terrorists in both the attacks were raised and launched from its soil because that would mean worldwide condemnation and possible international isolation, which is what Sharif is now looking to avoid after India’s powerful counter on the international stage.
At the same time, some provinces in Pakistan, such as Balochistan, are trying very hard to break free from oppression. They are not supported by India, as Pakistan accuses. Tarek Fatah noted that it is Islamabad which should be blamed for the plight of Balochis. It was Islamabad which rejected an offer of giving ethnic protection to Balochis and hinted that all it wants is to completely subjugate Balochistan.
Technically, Sharif is only trying to keep his post intact. If he makes one move that is wrong in the eyes of Pakistan’s army, he will have to pack his bags and leave for United Kingdom. If he allows the Opposition forces to gang up on him holding the Panama Papers and everything else in their hands, it is again the end of the road for him.
And this is the secret of poor Sharif’s ‘accuse India’ and ‘pro-Kashmir’ stance. After all, any politician stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea will do exactly this.