Pakistan’s internal power struggle – Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Who is running Pakistan?

Ideally it should be the government duly elected by the people. However, the government is Pakistan instead of being democratic in nature has turned ‘dynastocratic’ for all practical purposes.

The unfolding of Panama Leaks, exposing Hassan, Husain and Maryam’s alleged involvement in ownership of off-shore properties, and the verdict by Supreme Court and subsequent recommendations of JIT constituted by the august court, sending references to National Accountability Court on heels of disqualification of Nawaz Sharif were a huge set back to the family. “In 1998, The Independent established bank accounts containing five million pounds were set up in the names of three members of a British family from Ilford, Essex. These deposits were used to raise millions of pounds in loans which, according to documents detailing Pakistan police inquiries, were channeled into Sharif family-owned businesses.” (The Independent 28 July 2017)

Having been disqualified by the Supreme Court by a panel of five judges unanimously, Justice Khosa opening with reference to well-known novel of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”, stated, “In the above mentioned sorry and unfortunate state of affairs a conclusion has appeared to me to be unavoidable and inescapable that in the matter of explaining the wealth and assets respondent No. 1 has not been honest to the nation, to the nation’s representatives in the National Assembly and even to this Court.”

Instead of packing up his bags, Nawaz Sharif went about to change the law that disallowed a disqualified person from heading a political party. He was successful in achieving this objective largely with the help of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and BNP-Mengal (with Senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini) extending him their support. Triumphant, in denial of his loss of face internationally, Nawaz Sharif returns to head his party making a mockery of democratic norms.

More recently Ahsan Iqbal lashed out at Rangers for disallowing PML-N supporters and leaders entering the accountability court where the former disqualified Prime Minister’s case was to be heard. The issue was blown out of proportion with a wing of the Army involved. The issue however was fairly simple. The SSP Operations, Islamabad Police, had requested that 200 Ranger forces personnel be employed outside the court to maintain law and order in light of the public disorder at the previous hearing of Nawaz Sharif. If the request was turned down, Rangers should have been informed as it was copied to Rangers’ command. This was neither done by police nor by the civil administration. Ahsan Iqbal’s behavior only opened the crack between civil-military relationship wider.

Such incidents and actions are reflective of a flawed approach by the civil elected representatives. Whereas power is craved for, the accountability and responsibility that goes with it is shirked. Vested interests supersede national interests. The political parties over years have failed to represent the common people in the true spirit of democracy. The cascading negative effect of this failure to represent people better has resulted in warped priorities that have led to ‘development’ projects that do not result in directly helping the common man; be it education, health, taxation, or other sectors.

Army has learnt its lesson. It understands that a takeover is not the solution. Strengthening political institutions is. The Army wants the civil set up to be effective, both internally and externally. In spite of a certain segment of ‘intellectuals’ swearing they can hear boots marching every week for the past few years, each time the government committed a gaffe [there have been many, Dawn Leaks being one] this had no chance of happening. Army is overstretched with military operations and rooting out militants from Pakistan’s soil. A slow and arduous task made slower due to failure of the government to implement the 20 point National Action Plan (NAP) formulated after 2014’s Peshawar school attack. This has been highly frustrating as without the back up any military operation can only be temporary in nature.

Created on December 25th 2014, a big part of NAP deals with counter terrorism outlining steps to make National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) stronger. Senator Farhatullah Babar said that “the government has completely abandoned NACTA by not allocating any budget to it.” (Business Recorder NOV 18TH, 2015)

“The government has massively reduced the allocation for National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) while allocating a meager amount of Rs 148 million in the budget 2017-18 compared to Rs 1.56 billion sanctioned for the fiscal year 2016-17.” (Business Recorder MAY 27th, 2017) The government seems to have a feeble political will to deal with these aspects of critical importance. NAP has clauses dealing with issues to combat extremism, intolerance and hatred. “Crackdown on seminaries in the form of uniform registration, curriculum reform, and routing their finances through banking transactions was a highly controversial point in the NAP. This goal was so volatile that just days after the school attack, hardliner religious right parties refused to get on board with the NAP if seminaries were targeted. The net result is that even two years after the fact, progress on this objective remains stunted and negligible. Even the official form for registering the 26,465 seminaries did not have the prime minister’s approval as of September. In October, in a meeting, it was decided that the process would be “sped up” without giving any details on what said speed would entail. The government’s progress on this front has been nothing short of timid and docile.” (The Diplomat December 24, 2016)

Rehabilitating internally displaced persons (IDPs) and repatriating refugees also forms part of NAP. Pakistan is host to 1.6 million refugees and the third country in the world to host the biggest numbers according to a report by Amnesty International in September 2016. An effort to repatriate led to raising ire of Afghanistan and the rightist groups.

Pakistan Army, in June 2014, moved into FATA to clear the area of terrorists. This led to mass displacement of residents leading to added burden on Pakistan economy already trying to struggle with nearly two million displaced when military operations were conducted in Swat in 2009. Added to this is the resettlement of the displaced resulting from floods of 2010 across a huge area of Pakistan hitting roughly 20 million people. According to FDMA (FATA Disaster Management Authority) 87, 778 families of North Waziristan are registered duly as displaced. Besides this, a daily newspaper reports nearly a million fled to Afghanistan. (Foreign Policy January 16, 2015)

Former COAS Raheel Sharif had claimed that 61% of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have returned to their homes in FATA. (15 Jun, 2016) As per Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, this leaves 600,000 yet to be rehabilitated.

The Nawaz Sharif government’s pre-occupation with wrongly prioritized projects, ignoring the crucial issues that needed to be dealt with, has led to deep frustration in the Army engaged in WoT, sacrificing men in line of duty with hundreds and thousands of civilians dying in terrorist attacks.

Nawaz Sharif’s collision with the Judiciary and the Army [by many seen as a death wish to attain political martyrdom: not realizing the SC judgment was closing of a chapter] can only lead to further weakening of democratic norms. It is probably going to lead to a hastening of NAB cases to finally close the book. However, with a sitting majority in Parliament, Nawaz Sharif continues to rule, disqualification notwithstanding. Judiciary cannot dissolve the government per se. What’s next?


The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

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