Pakistan’s Stability Challenge

Prime Minister Nawaaz Sharif’s government is neck deep in trouble over Panama Leaks. He is accused of money laundering amidst evidence from the horses’ mouth in clear and convincing manner. Sharif’s own family and important members of his party have unknowingly made statements that malign Nawaz Sharif.

Imran Khan has threatened a shut down of the federal government through people’s power on November 2nd unless or untill Sharif resigns and presents himself for accountability over Panama revelations. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is in the process of hearing the petition that prays for Nawaz’s disqualification as PM of Pakistan. The religious political parties and non political religious entities such as seminaries are rumored to be joining the force of people Imran Khan has threatened to lead to Islamabad because corruption is against fundamental values of Islam. The military establishment is terribly unhappy over the recent Dawn gate scandal, wherein some member of the civilian government leaked to the media a conversation that took place in Islamabad between the military leadership and the civilian leadership at the highest level. The leak compromises national security and strengthens New Delhi’s campaign against Pakistan at a time the latter is at its highest pitch to distract domestic and international attention from the fact that Kashmir has slipped out of India’s control. The public is angry with the Sharif government for not doing enough to bring Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir to international attention. Those not thinking politically are also angry because they are hungry and are thus likely to join the agitation against the government.

A show down is approaching on November 2nd, when Imran’s sit in is scheduled to begin in Islamabad. There are whispers that the military will back the sit in. If so, it will be an important determinant of the outcome. Of course, a more important determinant will be the answer to the following question “who will back the Sharif government when the push comes to shove?”

One does not find the Supreme Court inclined to back the government, given the recent pronouncements of the judges in matters related to quality of governance in Pakistan. Political parties are no longer willing to support Nawaz Sharif for the sake of supporting democracy, as they did in 2014, when the PTI and the PAT staged sit in against the Sharif government in front of the Parliament for four months. Imran Khan’s uncompromising stand against evident corruption is lionizing him and will dwarf other parties if they do not join in the call for accountability.

Nawaz Sharif’s government is precariously placed on a very slippery slope. Even if it arrests Imran Khan and the rest of PTI leadership in the nick of time to prevent the avowed shut down of Islamabad on November 2nd, there are other powerful layers of discontent that it will not be able to pack in a sack and cushion itself till the 2018 election.

Corruption is a cancer that prevents progress and prosperity in a nation state. Lack of stability also prevents progress and prosperity in a nation state.  Hence the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves is; can we get rid of the pathogens without endangering the body?

More than Nawaz Sharif is at stake here. There is the political party called PML (N), a competitive political entity that survived years of intense persecution and exile of leadership from 1999 to 2008. Not all its members are involved in Panama Leaks. Some have served their respective constituencies diligently and are capable and honest politicians. Democracy can not happen in a vacuum. It needs political parties to survive and political parties need members with grass root connections to thrive. PML (N) has the same in no small measure, notwithstanding allegations (and some validation) of rigging in the 2013 general election.

Should Panama Leaks be allowed to kill or enfeeble the entire construct called PML (N), or should the party be allowed to survive the accountability process (and outcome) of its principle leader Nawaz Sharif. When tackling questions of this nature, the thought at all levels, and within all entities, must be institutional, not personal.

Were Nawaz Sharif to look at PML (N) as the political entity that must survive the crisis of its leader’s credibility, he would step aside and allow another member to step  in till the next general election in 2018. The stock market will continue operating at its optimal levels. The government will continue its projects to the end (barring the ones stalled by law). The PML (N) public representatives will continue serving their constituencies, even more rigorously perhaps, to prevent the leadership crisis from marring the image of the entire party and to enable its come back in the next elections. As they say, the party must go on.

The country will thus avert a crisis. The Supreme court will still handle what it must, ruling over Nawaz’s fate after examination of evidence. The media must scrutinize the affair of civil-military stand off in Pakistan, leading to either the civilians getting exiled (as did Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif) or the fallen military ruler getting exiled, as General Musharref had to after his civilian adversary made a come back through election in 2008.

The fact is, Nawaz Sharif was financially persecuted when he was removed from office by General Pervez Musharraf, when no scandal regarding financial irregularities was attached to Sharif yet. The media, including the larger civil society, must define the boundaries within which incumbents can deal with their political adversaries by asking some soul searching and necessary questions regarding our behavior at the apex. Political discord must not result in financial persecution of the adversaries by the incumbent. Such conduct is unbecoming of civilized leadership. Political exiles are borne of petty politics that demean an entire nation.

For now, it is Nawaz Sharif’s call to pay his party members back for the loyalty they showed to PML (N) by sticking to the party during all its crises, the most serious of which lasted from 1999 to 2008. Needless to mention, Panama Leaks is a personal crisis for Nawaz Sharif. Sharif has no moral reason to allow it to become a crisis for Pakistan – or an existential crisis for the entire PML (N), a precious political institution that must continue to contribute to the smooth functioning of democracy in Pakistan.

If Nawaz Sharif does not step aside voluntarily, the current government will be forced out of office and its members, who are innocent of any crime, will also get bruised. This time, it may be one hit too many for the party because the moral reason for unity against all odds is no more.


Author: zeenia satti

Zeenia Satti is a political analyst and columnist based in Islamabad, Pakistan. She has studied Middle Eastern Affairs at Harvard University, USA. She works as Executive Director at PPLDM, Pakistan's People Led Disaster Management. ( Follow her on twitter@zssatti.

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