On Friday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office and barring him from electoral politics for five years. The investigation into the Panama Papers concluded that his assets exceeded his known sources of income.
His disqualification immediately opens up a succession issue within his own party but, more importantly, potentially signals a period of sustained political uncertainty among democratic forces in that country.
The same ruling has also affected his two sons, son-in-law and daughter — the latter who was seen as a potential heir to the leadership of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) — and left a gaping hole in Pakistan’s polity. National elections are due by the middle of next year so the party must decide on a replacement in a relatively short period of time.
So overwhelming is the political strength of the PMLN in Pakistan’s largest province of Punjab and so weak is the opposition it faces, it’s likely that the PMLN will still go into the elections as overwhelming favourites. It is not clear that Imran Khan, who led the charge against Sharif after the Panamagate revelations came out will necessarily benefit electorally.
The real shift, and the one that will matter the most, will be the power equation between the PMLN and the Pakistani military. There is strong evidence to indicate that the sheer depth of Sharif’s electoral support had alarmed the Pakistani military and many of the protests and demonstrations against him have been fomented by Rawalpindi to remind him of who holds true power in Pakistan. The court ruling helps the military in that it has sharply reduced Sharif’s influence — and, over the long term, serves to shift the balance of power back towards the generals.
The India-Pakistan relationship has been at an impasse for a number of years. The trajectory has been largely downward, as clear from the renewed skirmishing along the Line of Control and the present problems in Kashmir. However, they have been within certain manageable limits.
Reports say that the complaints by Pakistani-based jihadi groups about a shortage of arms and funds have been because of interference by Sharif’s government. The Pakistani leader has long been a votary of stronger economic relations between the two countries and has quietly believed that the resolution of bilateral problems through violence is a political dead-end.
His departure from the political scene is almost certain to herald a period of volatility within Pakistan and, therefore, greater risk in relations between India and Pakistan.
Hindustan Times, July 29, 2017