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Panama verdict makes Pak wobbly

Panama verdict makes Pak wobbly

Much along the expected lines, Pakistan's ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – who was disqualified by the Supreme Court after a probe into his family's assets following last year's Panama Papers revelations that linked his children to offshore companies, also struck a defiant note in the speech, taking credit for Pakistan's nuclear tests and recalling the history of the country's military coups – picked up his brother and Punjab province Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif as his successor and nominated former Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as interim Prime Minister for 45-days. In an address to party legislators in Islamabad, he said, "Now that I have left the Prime Minister's Office, I propose the name of Shehbaz Sharif as Prime Minister. But it will take some time as he has to contest elections on a National Assembly seat. So, for an interim period, Abbasi has agreed to become the Prime Minister." Though he claimed to make Pakistan a nuclear power and a good friend of its 'neighbours', the five-member bench of the top court unanimously ruled that Sharif had been "dishonest" in not disclosing his earnings from a UAE-based company in his nomination papers. Pakistan Muslim League-N sources said Shehbaz Sharif would contest from Sharif's NA-120 constituency, a stronghold of the party. The Election Commission would issue the date of the election next week. On the other hand, Abbasi, a Sharif loyalist, has been a member of the National Assembly since 1998. He has a Master's degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University in Washington and had served as the chairman of the Pakistan International Airlines and the chief executive of Air Blue, a private airline. He was the Petroleum Minister in the out-going Sharif Cabinet. No doubt, under him, the Pakistan economy was showing promising signs. He improved fiscal discipline, reduced poverty, put money in the middle class's hands, and the stock market, too, responded with enthusiasm. On May 15, 2017, index provider MSCI announced that it was reclassifying Pakistan's status from lowly 'frontier' to a more prestigious 'emerging market'. One should not forget that democracy is an idea existent more in its abuse in Pakistan and it is the bulwark of the army that keeps the failing state from collapsing under its own weight. With Islam as the governing principle and macho military generals protecting borders, Pakistan doesn't need a civilian government.

Sharif, who wanted to normalise democracy and solidify grip over power, made two cardinal errors, i.e. responding to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi's gestures (swearing-in ceremony, Lahore stopover) and attempting to limit the influence wielded by the security-intelligence network. He was straightforwardly told that with the Pakistan's military and ISI, Pakistan would have to face 'international isolation' if it carries on using jihadist violence as a foreign policy tool. The two messages on October 3 last year, which virtually shook up Pakistan, were: "Military-led intelligence agencies are not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups" and "Fresh attempts must be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials." In fact, he was playing a high-stakes game of poker with the all-powerful army and the recent Supreme Court verdict is the price he had to pay for his adventurism. It is an illusion to think that the Panama Papers verdict is an open and shut case of probity versus corruption. As a common practice in the Indian sub-continent, corruption is a way of life touching all aspects of polity — civilian, judicial, and military. However, the desperate Sharif tried to mend fences with the army — lionising Burhan Wani and vowing to 'snatch Kashmir away from India' but the powerful army generals could never really trust him. As a result, with Sharif ousted, the space for democracy would further shrink in Pakistan. For India, it may not mean a drastic change in approach but would surely entail a greater application of defensive steps and counterterrorism. As Sharif was deeply unpopular in Pakistan among the jihadist network for making them starve for funds, his ouster would be wildly cheered by them. After his ouster, banned outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Abdul Rehman Makki, who is also the brother-in-law of 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, appeared on TV channels saying, "Sharif was punished for not supporting jihad." Consequent to the recent political developments in Pakistan, India is likely to witness a sudden rise in jihadist violence. And, with the stand-off at Doklam, China would not let its newest colony go up in flames as it can always be used as a better tactical weapon to divert India's focus to another front.


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