Thursday, August 21, 2008
Sharif Emerges as Pakistan's Power Broker
Less than nine years ago, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, the two-time prime minister of Pakistan, was overthrown, jailed and then forced into exile by General Musharraf. Now, he is emerging as the ultimate come-back kid of Pakistani politics. Recent polls indicate he is the most popular politician in Pakistan. His party, the PML(N) has emerged as the second largest force in Pakistan's parliament in February elections held under President Musharraf. His brother rules Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan, and Sharif has forced Asif Zardari to join him in removing Musharraf, his personal nemesis, under the threat of impeachment.
Who is Nawaz Sharif? What is his past? What does he want? These questions are gaining great relevance with the rising popularity and increasing clout of Nawaz Sharif. A recent Wall Street Journal interview and story shed some light on Mr. Sharif.
Here are some excerpts from the Wall Street Journal report today:
Mr. Sharif hails from a family of industrialists. At his heavily guarded home on the outskirts of Lahore, his wealth and power are both on display. Peacocks stroll on neatly trimmed grass and statues of a doe and her fawn mark an entrance where security guards wearing black T-shirts and carrying automatic weapons await visitors. Just outside Mr. Sharif's cavernous dining room are two stuffed African lions that appear to be stalking prey. "From Botswana," Mr. Sharif said. "Male lions."
In an interview at his home Wednesday, Mr. Sharif said he is prepared to withdraw his Pakistan Muslim League (N) from the governing coalition, led by the Pakistan People's Party, if about 60 judges -- sacked during a six-week state of emergency declared in November -- aren't given their jobs back immediately. Mr. Sharif added, "Mr. Musharraf threw the judges out of office. He ridiculed the institution," he said. "If this institution is not restored, it will shake the foundations of this country."
In answer to a question on business, Mr. Sharif said, "The privatization program started from our government. We should open up further. I'd like to privatize everything. This is the key to success. The government shouldn't be in the business of running factories".
Answering another question, Mr. Sharif said, "The coalition of the PPP and our party came into being on the basis that democracy would be strengthened and judges restored. And of course, we would restore the constitution as it stood before Mr. Musharraf overthrew an elected government, my government. The reinstatement of the judges hasn't come through."
Is Mr. Sharif a really changed man? Has he learned from his past mistakes? Has he had a real epiphany? Let's see how one can square the new persona of Mr. Sharif with the following realities from his past two stints as prime minister:
In June 1994 when Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister, Pakistan faced its worst-ever constitutional crisis when a pro-Sharif mob stormed into the supreme court, forcing Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah to adjourn the contempt of court hearing against Sharif. Hundreds of Pakistan Muslim League supporters and members of its youth wing, the Muslim Students Front (MSF), broke the police barricade around the courthouse when defense attorney Mr. S.M. Zafar was arguing his case.
A journalist ran into the courtroom and warned the bench of an impending attack. Heeding the warning, the chief justice got up abruptly, thanked Zafar and adjourned the hearing. While judicial members left the courtroom soon after, the mob ran in shouting anti-Supreme Court slogans, and damaging furniture.
The angry mob, led by ruling party member from Punjab Sardar Naseem and Colonel (retired) Mushtaq Tahir Kheli, Sharif's political secretary, shouted slogans against the chief justice. The mob also beat up Pakistan Peoples Party senator Iqbal Haider. The police managed to restore normalcy after baton charging and teargassing the mob, both inside and outside the courthouse. The court which assembled at 9:45 a.m., could continue the proceedings for only about 45 minutes.
According to media reports in 1998, Nawaz Sharif, after taking over as prime minister for the second time, amended Pakistan's constitution twice to consolidate his power. He attempted to transform the constitution and system of government completely by attempting to get unlimited powers of Amir ul Momineen (the chief of the faithful) by means of the Sharia Bill, which he introduced.
In April 2001, Ayaz Amir, a popular newspaper columnist and now a PML(N) MNA, wrote as follows about the Sharif brothers: The Sharifs’ notions of government were intensely private: which is to say, have your own man at every key post. They began with commissioners and police DIGs, the dregs of both services pandering to their whims and enriching themselves in the process. Major Mushtaq of the Police Service who has finally been caught by NAB for becoming a real estate tycoon while in service was an outstanding example of this breed: doing as he was told and becoming an impressive man of property along the way. But when Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister the second time round the family’s sights were set higher. They had whiz-kid younger brother running Punjab. They had their own man in the presidency. After Sajjad Ali Shah’s arranged departure from the Supreme Court, they thought they had the apex court lined up in their favor. In the person of Justice Qayyum at the Lahore High Court they had the closest thing they could get to a personal judge. Division of family assets, balancing of huge bank loans against dummy collateral, tightening the noose around Asif Zardari and Benazir: the only judge who could handle these sensitive matters was Justice Qayyum.
In 1999, when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister, Pakistani economy was in shambles. Pakistan’s total debt as percentage of GDP was the highest in South Asia – 99.3 percent of its GDP and 629 percent of its revenue receipts, compared to Sri Lanka (91.1% & 528.3% respectively in 1998) and India (47.2% & 384.9% respectively in 1998). Internal Debt of Pakistan in 1999 was 45.6 per cent of GDP and 289.1 per cent of its revenue receipts, as compared to Sri Lanka (45.7% & 264.8% respectively in 1998) and India (44.0% & 358.4% respectively in 1998). The Economist recently noted that the current macroeconomic disarray will be familiar to the coalition government led by the Pakistan People's Party of Asif Zardari, and to Nawaz Sharif, whose party provides it “outside support”. Before Mr Sharif was ousted in 1999, the two parties had presided over a decade of corruption and mismanagement. But since then, as the IMF remarked in a report in January, there has been a transformation. Pakistan attracted over $5 billion in foreign direct investment in the 2006-07 fiscal year, ten times the figure of 2000-01. The government's debt fell from 68% of GDP in 2003-04 to less than 55% in 2006-07, and its foreign-exchange reserves reached $16.4 billion as recently as in October."
Like his coalition partner Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif has also been the subject of corruption allegations. He is accused of abuse of power and amassing personal wealth at Pakistan's expense, and leaving the country bankrupt in 1999. There are lingering questions of where and how Mr. Sharif got the money to pay off the $450m judgment as rendered by a British court against him in 1998, in connection with Hudaibia Paper Mills Ltd.
Let me conclude with some questions and a sincere hope: Is the transformation of Nawaz Sharif genuine? Or, are we seeing just another two-faced politician vying for more power and popularity? Sometimes, people do change profoundly. I sincerely hope, for the sake of Pakistan's future, that the metamorphosis of Nawaz Sharif is positive and genuine. I also hope that Asif Zardari , the other major power broker in Pakistan, has gone through similar transformation to enable genuine democracy to take roots in Pakistan.