Special Commentary: The Military and Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan

05 Jun, 2013    ·   3972

Rana Banerji discusses the road ahead for Nawaz Sharif in the aftermath of the Pakistan elections

Rana Banerji
Rana Banerji
Distinguished Fellow

Much is being read between the lines about the inclinations of the new Nawaz Sharif regime to improve relations with India. However, several potential conflict areas remain, especially in civil military relations, which may hamper Nawaz Sharif’s capacity to move too fast. No doubt, the Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s gesture to call on the Prime Minster designate seemed a refreshingly `correct’ departure from the past, acknowledging a significant democratic mandate. However, it may have been intended to provide a sobering perspective on security imperatives which face the new government. It could also be seen as a move to disarm, given the history of past suspicions.

It should have become amply clear that new threats to domestic security from Islamic radicals notwithstanding, the Army’s abiding priorities have not changed. It will not countenance interference in charting the course of key security and foreign policies, especially those pertaining to India, Afghanistan and nuclear issues.

Down Memory Lane
If history is taken as a guide, whenever buttressed by a strong mandate, Nawaz Sharif has shown a penchant to take on the `Deep State’, flaunting his `Punjabi’ credentials and claimed support within Army `Other Ranks (OR s)’ or even the `Officer’ class at the middle level.

During his first premiership, between November,’90 to July’93, when Gen Asif Nawaz was the Army Chief (16 th August,’91-8th January’93), several issues of discord came up. When Asif Nawaz transferred Lt Gen Hamid Gul from the II Corps Command in Multan, as he was not confident of his loyalties as second in command when travelling abroad, the latter demurred against moving to a non-command post (POF, Wah). He tried to use political influence to stall his transfer. He was retired by Asif Nawaz.

Later, the Chief had to sometimes cater to unwarranted recommendations on postings, promotions of senior officers. Apprised about rumours circulating that the Ittefaq Group was distributing BMW cars as `Abba ji’s (Nawaz Sharif’s father, Mian Mohd Sharif) gifts’ to cultivate gullible Generals, the Army Chief confronted Nawaz, who did not deny the allegation, rather he offered the keys of a new BMW to Asif Nawaz urging him not to keep driving his old Toyota Corona as it was not` befitting’ for the Chief! Asif Nawaz politely returned the keys and walked away.

Quoted in a vernacular publication, `Ghaddar Kaun’, Nawaz Sharif described Asif Nawaz as `a headstrong individual who did not give him due regard as PM’. The PM and the Army Chief were not on the same page over handling of the situation in Sindh and the splintering, infighting between Mohajir Quami movement factions(Altaf vs Haqiqi). Nawaz brought in his father’s tablighi acolyte, Lt Gen Javed Nasir as the new DG, ISI without consulting Asif Nawaz.

When the latter died suddenly after a heart attack in January, ’93, there were allegations of arsenic poisoning. Begum Nawaz received anonymous letters from waiters at Nawaz Sharif’s Raiwind house claiming use of special cloth to polish plates on which the Chief was served refreshments. Though Asif Nawaz’s body was exhumed and an inquiry held by US forensic experts, these allegations could not be substantiated.

When Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar was appointed the next Army Chief, Nawaz Sharif did not agree with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s choice. Relations between the two soured further, leading to Nawaz’s dismissal in April’93 with the President using his powers under Art 58(2) (b) of the Constitution. Nawaz challenged this in Court and Supreme Court Chief Justice, Nasim Hassan Shah deemed the dismissal illegal. Later, the Army Chief, Gen Kakar had to mediate, leading to a situation where both Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif were made to resign and Pakistan went into fresh elections, which brought Benazir Bhutto back in for her second tenure as PM.

Nawaz's Authoritarian Streak
In the 1997 National Assembly elections, Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) received a massive mandate- 45.9% votes and 155/207 seats, with PPP getting only 18 seats. This brought to fore Nawaz’s authoritarian streak – he introduced the 13th Amendment, doing away with the President’s powers to dismiss the PM and dissolve Assemblies. A new chapter of confrontation was opened up with the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah, whose court was stormed by PML (N) supporters. The Army Chief, Gen Karamat refrained from responding to Justice Shah’s call for assistance from the Army.

More differences surfaced over political demands for use of the Army in non-military functions. Lt. Gen Khwaja Ziauddin Butt was brought in as the new DG, ISI, once again without approval of the Army Chief. Karamat criticised profligacy of certain grandiose civilian government schemes and demanded setting up of a National Security Council in a speech at the Naval Staff College, Lahore in October,’98. This incensed Nawaz Sharif and he called in the Chief to remonstrate. Karamat quit as Chief.

Musharraf - The Love-Hate Relationship
When Musharraf was appointed COAS over the heads of two seniors- Chief of General Staff Ali Kuli Khan Khattak and Lt Gen Khalid Nawaz Malik, ostensibly because he was a Mohajir. Nawaz was advised by his close confidants that he could reach over a Mohajir Chief’s head to Punjabi ORs and officers, to keep Musharraf quiescent. These pious hopes proved short lived. As claimed by Musharraf in his book, `Line of Fire’, he sympathised with Karamat after taking over as new Chief, assuring that`never again would he allow a Chief to be ill-treated’ thus.

Though Musharraf claims Nawaz Sharif was taken on board and kept informed of the Kargil incursion plan, before Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Lahore bus yatra (February’99), the operation remained a closely guarded secret. In later Pakistani post-mortems, it was seen as the handiwork of `the Gang of Four’- a coterie of Generals close to Musharraf- Maj Gen Javed Hassan of the Force Command, Northern Areas, CGS Lt Gen Mohd Aziz, X Corps Commander Lt Gen Mehmood Ahmed and the Chief himself. Even the DGMO, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia was `odd man out’ and the DG, ISI Ziauddin only sensed something grave was brewing, much later.

Distrust increased between the civilian executive and the military leadership, to the spectacular extent of the DG, MI bugging the ISI chief and the latter returning the compliment.

In September,’99 matters came to head as Musharraf sacked XII Corps Commander, Lt Gen Tariq Pervaiz, a close relative of Raja Nadir Pervaiz, Communications Minister in the Nawaz Sharif Cabinet and a 1965 war hero, on charges of leaking minutes of Corps Commanders’ meetings to the political executive. Nawaz sent brother Shahbaz as emissary to the United States to focus on apprehensions of a coup attempt, urging US mediation. A last minute attempt was made to appease Musharraf by appointing him coterminously to the vacant four star slot of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

After the 12th October,’99 coup, Nawaz Sharif was taken prisoner, hauled in chains on a seven hour flight from Islamabad, via Multan to Karachi and back, before being lodged in solitary confinement, first in Adiala and later in Attock jail. Saudi intervention and a commitment given not to return to politics for 21 years led to exile in Jeddah. The banishment was reduced to 10 years. Nawaz was able to finally return to Pakistan after 8 years- taking advantage of the burgeoning civil society/ lawyers’ agitation on the Judges restoration issue, which saw the ground under President Musharraf’s feet disintegrate quickly.

Though Nawaz remained carefully reticent on the judicial fate befalling Musharraf on his return and during the election campaign, presently he may have to contend with a growing demand from a resurgent PML (N) to begin impeachment proceedings against the former Army Chief under Art 6 of the Constitution. Already, Musharraf has had to face the wrath of the Courts in the Judges’ dismissal case, the Benazir Bhutto murder enquiry and the Akbar Bugti killing. Petitions implicating him in the Lal Masjid case are also pending. Though one option could be to let the tortuous legal procedures in various cases take their own course, Nawaz will have to think twice before humiliating Musharraf beyond a point, lest the constituency of senior Army officers takes umbrage. Already Gen Kayani has admonished the higher Judiciary to set limits to `retribution’ for mistakes of the past

A More Mature Nawaz Sharif? 
There are reports to suggest that adversity and exile may have metamorphosed Nawaz Sharif into a more patient and mature leader, capable of listening to differing points of view and eschewing rash decisions. Though originally a creation of the Army, Nawaz Sharif’s three decades long political journey indicates he has managed to successfully move away from their apron strings and cast himself as a `mass based’ politician, roping in Punjabi feudals and businessmen in an alliance for power sharing.

Yet questions persist about his political sagacity and attention span to face up to complex issues like how to deal with the Tehrik-e-Taliban, appointment of the new Army Chief, Afghan policy and relations with India. He will have to tread warily on all these issues, taking care not to cross the Army’s path.