Operation “Get Nawaz Sharif”

Operation “Get Nawaz Sharif”
The “conspiracy” to get rid of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been exposed. Although the circumstantial evidence was compelling, no one, not even the government and parliament, had hard-core facts to prove who was doing what and why. That’s why the government’s political and administrative response to the unfolding crisis was confused, weak and vacillating. Then the Heavens parted and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf President Javed Hashmi descended like an angel to “save” the government by making a clean breast of things. The story can now be stitched up safely.

The old guard in the military left behind by General Ashfaq Kayani – a master spy who occupied both high offices in ISI and GHQ by turns and fashioned the military’s strategic policies for over a decade – was unhappy with the proposed foreign policy initiatives of Nawaz Sharif towards India, Afghanistan, USA, and his stance on non-state actor “assets” and the war against the Pakistani Taliban. Mr Sharif’s choice of General Raheel Sharif as COAS, number three in the lineup and totally apolitical to boot, also queried their pitch. The dye was cast when Mr Sharif hauled up ex-army chief General Pervez Musharraf for treason because this move threatened to drag in General Kayani and many other senior military officers who had backed the coup maker. It was also feared that, come October 2014, when several key generals from the “Kayani guard” would face retirement, Mr Sharif would appoint another relatively apolitical general to the powerful DG-ISI post, thereby seizing the “national security” initiative from the military. It may be recalled that the fear was not unjustified: on two previous occasions as prime minister, Mr Sharif had taken exactly such steps when he sacked Lt Gen Asad Durrani in 1991 and appointed Lt Gen Javed Nasir as DG-ISI and when he appointed Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt as DG-ISI in his second stint as prime minister and later tried to make him COAS and triggered a coup by General Musharraf.

According to the Kayani doctrine, a serious “threat” of a coup is a better instrument of military policy than a coup itself because coups can be messy business in this day and age with a weak economy, an independent judiciary, ubiquitous media, obstreperous civil society institutions and bullying international state and non-state actors. Far better, they say, to pull strings via the military’s intelligence agencies from behind the political scenes and achieve the required objectives by pitting one actor against another and bringing things to such a pass that a coup seems like a real possibility. This is exactly how Gen Kayani brought the Zardari regime to heel on foreign policy and the war against terrorism on matters such as relations with India, USA and Afghanistan, Kerry-Lugar Bill, Memogate, etc. And this is exactly how his remnants wanted to deal with Nawaz Sharif when he threatened to disrupt or disown their doctrines.

Accordingly, a plan was hatched to oust Nawaz Sharif, with the threat of a coup, and before October when some of the key conspirators were due to retire. On the one hand, Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri, two desperadoes dying to become prime minister by hook or by crook, were roped in with the assistance of evergreen military “assets” like Sheikh Rashid, the Chaudhries of Gujrat and notorious elements in the media. On the other hand, potential oppositionists in the media like the Geo-Jang group were attacked and put down, while Supreme Court judges were scared off from interventionism by an attack from Imran Khan on ex-CJPs Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Tassaduq Hussain Jilani and ex-CEC Fakhruddin G Ibrahim. The pretext of a “rigged and polluted” election was perfect because in one fell swoop all potential oppositionists were routed at the hands of the country’s leading “populist” forces in the shape of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri. Unfortunately, both Geo and PMLN played into the hands of the conspirators by outraging the nation, the first by directly targeting the DG of an “esteemed national security institution” like the ISI and the second by precipitating a bloody crisis in Model Town, Lahore.

Fortunately, three things went wrong for the conspirators. First, the million-strong crowds didn’t materialize. Second, the scared government didn’t resort to further violent measures to stop the marchers, thereby denying a pretext for Mr Sharif’s head as in the case of Shahbaz Sharif. Third, just when things seemed to be slipping out of the government’s hand, Javed Hashmi came along to spill the beans, expose the mala fides of the conspirators and galvanise parliament and civil society to unite behind the prime minister.

Mr Sharif has made errors of judgment and policy that have weakened him considerably. Imran Khan has been exposed as a “match-fixer”. The conspiratorial rogues have been identified. Only General Raheel Sharif has come out looking reasonably good. Along with PM Sharif, he needs to help restore Geo and the credibility of all those unfairly targeted by the conspirators and build a trust-worthy civil-military relationship.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.