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Nawaz Sharif

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Pakistan Election

“Look, we have no other choice,” Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said last May. “These games have gone on too long. Something has to change.” Then he left to be with his wife Kulsoom, who is on life support while receiving treatment for cancer in England. But last week he and his daughter Maryam returned to Pakistan to begin serving the jail sentences imposed on them by a Pakistani court.

Why did he do that? He may never see Kulsoom again, and the Pakistani military would not have tried to get him back if he stayed in exile. The family has plenty of money (including four luxury apartments on Park Lane, one of London’s grandest streets), and he could have enjoyed a comfortable retirement far from Pakistan’s brutal politics.

He went home, and Maryam went with him, to serve jail sentences of ten and seven years respectively, because his party, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), could still win the national election on Wednesday. Or at least it could win enough seats to form a coalition government with the other anti-military party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

The PPP is led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 29-year-old son and grandson of former prime ministers. His mother, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a terrorist attack that may have been orchestrated by elements in Pakistan’s all-powerful military, and his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by one of Pakistan’s military dictators. He does not love the army.

The PPP will come third in the election, behind both Nawaz Sharif’s party and the pro-military party led by former star international cricket player Imran Khan, because its support is largely confined to the province of Sindh and the rural poor. But if the PML-N and the PPP together win more seats in parliament than Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), they might be able to form a coalition government that could face down the army.

Nawaz Sharif cannot run for parliament from jail, but his brother Shahbaz Sharif, currently leading the PML-N, certainly would become prime minister–and Nawaz Sharif’s conviction would probably then be overturned on appeal. To lodge an appeal, however, he must first show up and go to jail, so there he sits (at least for the moment).

He would stand a good chance of winning an appeal if the military didn’t intervene, because the case against him is weak. It is preposterous and shameful that around a thousand rich Pakistani families, most of them in effect semi-feudal land-owners, dominate the politics of a country of nearly 200 million people at both national and local levels, but it is not illegal.

Most of those families keep much of their wealth abroad, and as many as half own an expensive house or apartment in London. Nawaz Sharif’s family used a company in Panama to manage their overseas properties, and all the details were disclosed with the publication of the Panama Papers.

The case against Nawaz Sharif and his children, probably constructed by the military, charged him with owning assets beyond his income. An anti-corruption court that was probably under heavy military pressure removed him from the prime ministership last year and another court then sentenced him to prison. But it’s not a safe conviction.

When a reporter from Pakistan’s biggest TV news channel, Geo, dug up information in March that suggested the grounds on which Nawaz had been removed as prime minister were “extremely weak”, its cable distributors cut it off, almost certainly under military pressure.

In May, the country’s oldest and most influential newspaper, Dawn, published an interview with Nawaz in which he questioned the army’s wisdom in “allowing” Pakistani militants to go to India and kill 150 people in Mumbai in 2008. Dawn’s distribution was immediately suspended across large parts of urban Pakistan that are controlled by the army’s real estate giant, the Defence Housing Authority.

The rest of Pakistan’s media, once lively, are now thoroughly cowed: they did not even report on these events. Some 17,000 activists of the PML-N are facing criminal cases for breaking unspecified election rules. But unless the army directly interferes with the vote-counting – which would certainly trigger mass protests – Nawaz Sharif may still end up back in power.

As Nawaz remarked, “There was a time when we used to say (the army is) a state within a state. Now it’s a state above the state.” This election is really about whether the army keeps that power over civilian politicians, and also holds on to the vast business empire that guarantees its senior officers a prosperous retirement.

To justify its privileged position the army needs a big military threat, so it supports various militant groups to maintain a guerilla war in Afghanistan and a permanent military confrontation with India. Whereas every civilian politician who has gained a firm hold on power has tried to normalise Pakistan’s relationship with India – and several (including Nawaz himself in 1999) have been overthrown by the army for daring to try.

Nothing less is at stake in this election than peace in the Indian subcontinent and Pakistan’s release from the burden of an over-powerful military (which might at last allow it to match India’s high economic growth rate). And it is even possible that the anti-military parties could win.
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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 4, 7 and 8. (“The PPP…dictators”; and “He would…Papers”)

Pakistan: A Mistake?

It was never my plan to tell Pakistanis their country had been a mistake. I was nineteen years old at the time, in Pakistan for the summer with 40 other young Canadian university students on a trip to foster international understanding. I had already realised that this was a completely pointless exercise, but it was a free trip and I had never been out of North America before.

I also already knew that sticking up handbills in Lahore announcing a public debate in which the visitors would argue that the creation of Pakistan had been a bad idea would be a very bad idea, but nobody asked my opinion.

So there were rent-a-crowd riots in Lahore, and the military dictator of the time had us all arrested and shipped up to a boys’ school in Abbotabad, empty for the summer, until they could find enough seats on Pakistan International Airlines to expel us all. (The same town was also, much later, the last refuge of Osama bin Laden, but I digress.)

Anyway, this month marks the 70th anniversary of the partition of India and the independence of Pakistan, so maybe it’s time to revisit that aborted debate. Especially since the 18th prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has just been forced out of power by Pakistan’s supreme court. In all those 70 years, not one of Pakistan’s prime ministers has ever managed to complete one full term in office.

Pakistan is not exactly a “failed state”. It provides a very comfortable life for around five million privileged people, including the immensely rich Sharif family. (Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shahbaz will take over as prime minister as soon as he can quit his job as chief minister of Punjab state and get elected to the National Assembly). Another 30 or 40 million people have a modest but tolerable life, and the other 150 million just scrape along the bottom.

India is not rich either. Per capita income in India is only about 20 percent higher than in Pakistan, and the per capita income of India’s 190 million Muslims – who are the poorest of the country’s major religious communities – is probably slightly lower than average income in Pakistan. But it’s still worth asking if everybody would have been better off if British-ruled India had not been partitioned in 1947.

First of all, it was the best educated and most prosperous part of India’s Muslim population that moved to Pakistan in 1947. If their 20 million descendants were still in their ancestral homes, average Muslim incomes in the truncated India of today would be a good deal higher.

The proportion of Muslims in the population of an undivided India would have been so high that they could not be ignored politically. If Pakistan (and Bangladesh, which broke away from Pakistan in 1971) were still part of India, Muslims would not be 13 percent of that un-partitioned India’s population. They would be more than 30 percent.

Such an India, assuming it remained democratic, could never have ended up with a sectarian Hindu nationalist like Narendra Modi as prime minister. One-third of the electorate would instinctively vote against him. By the same token, Muslims who stood on a religious platform would not succeed – but lots of Muslims would be elected to high office on their merits.

Is this naive? Wouldn’t the evil Hindus just massacre the Muslims? That was, after all, the implicit reasoning behind the demand of a separate state for Muslim Indians.

If the Hindu majority haven’t massacred the 190 million Muslims of today’s India, then how were they going to massacre the 530 million Muslims of an undivided India? An estimated 10,000 people have been killed in Hindu-Muslim communal violence in India since 1950, and three of the victims were Muslims for every Hindu killed – but these numbers hardly compare with the immediate and long-term cost in lives of Partition

At least a million people were slaughtered in the mutual Muslim-Hindu massacres of 1947, when ten million people moved from India to Pakistan or vice versa. Another million civilians were killed in the 1971 war that broke Pakistan apart and led to an independent Bangladesh. And although the four India-Pakistan wars only killed about 30,000 soldiers, both countries now have nuclear weapons.

One other thing. No partition would probably have meant no military coups in the subcontinent. India has been the world’s largest democracy for 70 years, whereas Pakistan and Bangladesh have been ruled by generals for almost half of their independent histories.

Could it have happened differently? Both Gandhi, for all his saintly status a profoundly sectarian Hindu leader, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League and the founder of Pakistan, were dead within a year after Partition. If the British government had not been in such a panic-stricken rush to get out of India, there might have been time for more moderate Hindu and Muslim leaders to negotiate a different outcome.

Or not, as the case may be. This is purely a hypothetical game, because once partition happened it was irreversible. But it would have certainly been an interesting debate.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7, 10 and 13. (“First…higher”; “Is…Indians”; and “One…histories”)

Pakistan

15 May 2013

Pakistan’s New Government: An Older and Wiser Nawaz Sharif?

By Gwynne Dyer

The first time Nawaz Sharif became prime minister of Pakistan was almost a quarter-century ago. His second term was ended fourteen years ago by a military coup that drove him into exile. Now he’s back, a good deal older – but is he any wiser?

Pakistanis seem to think so – or at least Punjabis do. Almost all of the seats won by his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Party in last Saturday’s election were in the province of Punjab, which has more people than all of Pakistan’s other provinces combined.

That weakens the legitimacy of his victory, but with the support of some candidates who won as independents he will have no trouble in forming a majority government. The question is: what will that government do?

It’s a good question, because Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country of 160 million people that has borders with India, Afghanistan and Iran. It is also, in the view of some observers, fairly close to being a “failed state”.

Everybody knows that Nawaz Sharif is conservative, pro-business, and devout – during his second term, he tried to pass a constitutional amendment that would have enabled him to enforce Sharia law – but he hasn’t been tremendously forthcoming about his actual plans for his third term. And some of the things he did say have caused concern in various quarters.

The thing that most worries the United States is his declaration that Pakistan should end its involvement in the US-led “war on terror”. The army in unhappy about his proposal that the government should negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban (who conducted a campaign of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings against the “secular” political parties in the recent election) rather than just fighting them.

And everybody is wondering what Nawaz will do about the economy. The country’s balance of payments is in ruins, and it cannot meet its foreign debt obligations without negotiating new loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Those loans would come with onerous conditions about balancing the budget and fixing the tax system, and they wouldn’t come at all without American support.

Pakistan is technically a middle-income country, but during the outgoing government’s five years in office power shortages grew so acute that most regions are facing power outages for up to 12 hours a day. Millions of vehicles fuelled by natural gas have been immobilised by gas shortages. The country desperately needs foreign investment, but the plague of Islamist terrorism frightens investors away.

Finally, the United States will be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan next year, and Nawaz Sharif will have to decide what he wants to do about the Taliban in that country (who still have the tacit support of Pakistan’s army). The key to all these puzzles, oddly enough, may lie in the incoming prime minister’s determination to improve relations with India.

India has seven times Pakistan’s population and a booming economy, and it long ago lost its obsession with the agonies of Partition in 1947 and the three wars with Pakistan that followed. But the Pakistan army continues to be obsessed with the “threat” from India – in large part because that justifies its taking the lion’s share of the national budget. If Nawaz could fix Pakistan’s relations with India, a lot of his other dilemmas would also be solved.

In each of his previous terms, he tried very hard to make peace with India, but was thwarted both times by the Pakistani army. The current military chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is due to retire at the end of this year (after a three-year extension in office), and this will give Nawaz a chance to replace him with someone less committed to perpetual confrontation with India. Then many things would become possible.

An end to the military confrontation would open the door to large-scale Indian investment in Pakistan (including pipelines bringing oil and gas from Iran and Central Asia). It would let Pakistan cut the military budget down to size. And it would end the army’s tacit support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is all about ensuring that Pakistan has a friendly government in Kabul to give it “strategic depth” in its long cold war with India.

The Taliban will inevitably be part of any post-occupation government in Afghanistan, but without Pakistani support they will have to strike a deal with other forces rather than just taking over. That outcome would greatly mollify Washington and make it easier for Islamabad to get new loans from the World Bank and the IMF. It would also make it easier for the government to negotiate some kind of domestic peace settlement with the Pakistani Taliban.

Then, maybe, Nawaz could finally get the Pakistani economy back on track. It’s a long string of ifs, but nobody else on the Pakistani political scene seems to have a better plan.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 10. (“India…solved”)

 

 

Pakistan: A Chance to Grow Up

12 March 2008

Pakistan: A Chance to Grow Up

By Gwynne Dyer

Two things are needed for the current train of events in Pakistan to have a happy ending. One is that ex-general and more-or-less-president Pervez Musharraf accepts his rejection by Pakistan’s voters gracefully and leaves office without too much fuss. “This is the people’s verdict against him….He should accept the facts and he should not create hurdles and rifts,” as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf overthrew in 1999, put it.

The other necessary condition of a happy outcome is that the White House, Musharraf’s enthusiastic backer ever since the terrorist attacks of September, 2001, doesn’t try to save him.

Hanging onto the commander-in-chief’s job for ten years, until he was three years past the obligatory retirement age, did not endear Musharraf to his fellow generals, nor was his perceived subservience to American interests popular among them. When the new c-in-c, General Ashfaq Kayani, said after last month’s election that the army would stay out of the political process, he probably meant it.

In that case, Musharraf’s problems are probably terminal. In the parliamentary elections of 18 February (postponed for six weeks after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December), the ex-general’s tame political party, the PML-Q, won only fifteen percent of the seats. That share roughly corresponds to the level of popular approval for him personally in the opinion polls, so he really doesn’t have much to work with.

In retrospect, last autumn’s successful campaign to force Musharraf to doff his uniform was exactly the right tactic, since without the power to command the army directly he has become much more vulnerable to public opinion. He managed to get himself “re-elected” to the presidency anyway, mainly by keeping his uniform on until the old parliament (where his supporters were the largest faction and others could be bought) had chosen him again as president — but that just created a different vulnerability.

The Pakistani constitution forbids military officers from running for the presidency for two years after they leave the armed forces, but Musharraf did not dare retire from the army until he was safely re-elected president last October. Since that made his re-election illegal, in November he fired the chief justice and twelve other members of the Supreme Court whom he suspected of planning to enforce the law against him (plus some fifty other judges), and declared a state of emergency, allegedly about terrorist threats, to give his action political cover.

He got away with that at the time, but now it is coming back to bite him. The state of emergency was lifted in December to hold the parliamentary election, in which Musharraf expected Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to win — and to make an alliance with him. One cannot know what Benazir Bhutto actually intended, but it was certainly Washington’s plan that she would become prime minister, and thus save Musharraf’s presidency by giving it a more or less democratic facade.

Her assassination guaranteed that the PPP, now led by her husband Asif Ali Zardari, would win a majority in the election on a sympathy vote, but it also voided whatever deal there may have been between her and Musharraf. The PPP duly won almost half the seats when the election was finally held last month — and the party led by the man Musharraf overthrew in 1999, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, won more than a quarter.

These two parties have now agreed to form a government together — and to reinstate all the judges whom Musharraf removed from office within thirty days. If they do that, then those judges will surely do what Musharraf intervened to stop them from doing in November: they will rule that his “re-election” in October contravened the constitution, and order him to leave office.

Left to its own devices, Pakistan’s army is unlikely to lift a finger to save Musharraf. Although it has ruled the country for half the time since independence, it is always careful to safeguard its popularity with the public: it only moves to intervene at times of despair, and this is a time of hope. It may be false hope, but the voters feel they have accomplished something, and it would be a grave mistake for the army to defy them.

Could the United States persuade the army to save Musharraf? Not at the corporate level. It might find a few ambitious colonels, but all previous military interventions in Pakistan have been done by the entire military establishment, acting under the authority of its legally appointed commanders. The few ambitious colonels would be repudiated and crushed.

So Pakistan is going to be a democracy again, at least for a while. The coalition is made up of people who do not like or trust one another and the economy needs urgent attention, but at the very least it is better than more of Musharraf. At best, it is a chance for a nuclear-armed country of 160 million people to stop playing zero-sum political games and start taking itself seriously.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 10. (“Left…it”; and “The Pakistani..them”)