On Nawaz Sharif
After the SC’s ruling, the question on everyone’s lips is when is Nawaz Sharif going to return?
If he is a true champion of democracy, as he now holds himself out to be, it is imperative that he does not dillydally and returns to Pakistan at the earliest opportunity, even if it means risking jail. The fact that he had been convicted of some serious offences – such as hijacking and terrorism – and that the regime may attempt to reactivate the prison sentences, is a reality he has to confront.
By any display of dithering, he risks exposing himself to charges of cowardice. As one of his local party leaders told the press yesterday: “If he does not come now after such a conducive verdict, it will rock his credibility”.
Daily Times reported today that Nawaz Sharif and his plan to return to Pakistan by the end of November:
Nawaz held a meeting with his family members before the Supreme Court gave a ruling on his petition and it was decided that the Sharif family would first go to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah and spend the last two weeks of Ramazan in Mecca. They would also call on the Saudi royal family to thank them for their hospitality.
But this decision, as the newspaper indicated, had been made prior to the Supreme Court judgement. Let us see what Nawaz Sharif decides to do now with the sudden change in his circumstances.
Some people believe that the SC judgement has completely destabilized the government and it may soon fall.
Your Blogger does not buy this view. The answer lies, worryingly, deep in Musharraf’s psyche. As the latest Time magazine points out:
Musharraf has a history of getting out of a mess by taking out his weapons. As [a US official put it], "The question still becomes, At what point does his tendency as a commando to, you know, blow his way out of the situation, take over?"
If Musharraf becomes convinced that his ambition to be re-elected by the existing assemblies will be thwarted by Nawaz Sharif’s presence in Pakistan (in jail or out of jail), there remains a strong possibility he will attempt to declare martial law - as opposed to imposing a state of emergency.
Why not an emergency? Because in your Blogger’s opinion the constitutional conditions required for imposing an emergency do not exist and such a move will most likely, and quite correctly, be reversed by the Supreme Court.
By declaring martial law Musharraf can abrogate all existing laws at the point of a gun. Using the draconian powers of a Chief Martial Law Administrator he can then easily dismiss or lock up all the Supreme Court judges and prevent them from ruling against his unilateral decree.
However, a successful imposition of martial law will require two important fundamentals:
(i) That Musharraf’s subordinates - the corps commanders and services chiefs – support him without question.
(ii) That the public of Pakistan does not openly and violently resist the imposition of martial law in the streets (particularly in urban Punjab).
Your Blogger has little idea of what the mood of the corps commanders and other senior army officers will be to another bout of martial law. One point which has become increasingly obvious is that Musharraf’s politics have made the army extremely unpopular in its traditional heartland of central and upper Punjab. Such a situation has never occurred before and how this has impacted on the psyche of the senior officers - taking into account their traditional obedience to their chief - one has little way of knowing.
However, when it comes to the reaction of the public the answer is clearer. It is important to remember that all our four historical impositions of martial law found a large degree of support among the public.
1958 - Ayub Khan was welcomed as a CMLA in 1958 after a series of political crises.
1969 – Violent public protests led to Ayub Khan’s resignation and the arrival of Yahya Khan as CMLA
1977 -Nationwide rioting led to the dismissal of ZA Bhutto’s and the entry of Zia-ul-Haq as CMLA
1999 - Fed up with the repetitive political mismanagement of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf was widely welcomed in as “Chief Executive”.
Today the public mood is extremely hostile to Musharraf and to a large extent the military as well. If martial law is re-imposed by Musharraf, your Blogger foresees our lawyers marching in the streets from the very day that martial law is declared. This time the public will be right behind the ‘black coats’in extremely large numbers. There will be tumult and upheaval and, as was the case in 1977, the army will find it difficult to shoot citizens in Lahore, Rawalpindi and other urban centres of Punjab. Logically this can only lead to the ouster of Musharraf. How this will be done, we have no way of telling as there are no precedents for this.
On Benazir Bhutto
If Nawaz Sharif returns rapidly to Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto is going suffer immense political damage. Her meeting and attempts to make a 6-point deal with Musharraf have already tarnished her badly, even in the eyes of her own supporters.
As Kamila Hyat recently reported in The News:
[As] a petulant Benazir Bhutto continues to suggest that promises made to her by President Pervez Musharraf have fallen through and that she has been 'betrayed', it is already obvious that the 'deal' attempted in Dubai has caused her party possibly irreparable damage. Certainly, many mid-level party workers seem pleased the deal has not been forged, and are reassuring angry party workers that much of the conjecture regarding an agreement was the result of speculation.
Despite this, in a tiny, cramped street along Mozang, a traditional PPP stronghold, young men have refused to once again raise the red, green and black party emblem on their homes, after pulling it down a few weeks ago, as news of the Benazir-Musharraf dialogue came through. It is not known in how many other cities, towns and villages, similar displays of anger have been made and gone unnoticed by the party's leaders.
With her political graph heading southwards, she will have no option but to dump the Dubai deal and salvage her sinking fortunes by returning to Pakistan and stringently and publicly opposing Musharraf.