Deal
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News Analysis

During his address to the PML-N parliamentary meeting held in Islamabad on Tuesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif created a bit of media stir when he told his close confidants that former president Pervaiz Musharraf offered him an underhand deal in 2007, which he had rejected.

Why is he saying that? All evidence points to the fact that he struck a political deal with Musharraf, to spend 10 years out of politics, out of Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia. When he staged the show of returning back to Pakistan in 2007, for pure public consumption, to dispel the impressions of this deal, Musharraf had called Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Mukrin, who along with the Lebanese leader, Saad Hariri, admitted of the “political deal” brokered between Musharraf and Nawaz, and Musharraf government had leaked copies of the deal to media.

Pakistan’s prime minister, who along with his children is continuously in the shadow of the Panama Case crisis since April 2016, almost a year by now, told his party members that the then ex-military leader had sent an indirect message to him, in 2007, saying that he was interested in fixing issues. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he dismissed it because he doesn’t believe in making ‘secret deals’. He went on to say that he was forced to leave Pakistan, after the 1999 military coup, had not been allowed to come back too. “We left the country in a miserable condition and were not allowed to return for a long time,” he said. He went on to suggest the retribution is from life in that “Now Musharraf can’t come back to Pakistan. This is retribution.”

Aides close to Pervaiz Musharaf were scathing about the comments. All-Pakistan Muslim League member, and senior Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan, Ahmed Raza Kasuri reacted by saying: “I have been working with Gen. Musharraf for a long time and I have never heard any such thing.” He went on to add “it’s absolute rubbish and a bundle of lies, which has only been propagated for his image-building that was badly affected due to his lies in the Panama scandal.”

Musharraf Wanted Shahbaz Sharif to Join his Government

Musharraf had admitted in his tv discussions, and also in his book, “In the Line of Fire” that Shahbaz Sharif never wanted to leave Pakistan in Dec 2000. All political sources confirm that Shahbaz Sharif was forcibly taken off from the jail and put onto the flight, to Saudi Arabia because the elders of the family did not want to leave him behind.

Many will wonder why Nawaz is making these assertions now? What kind of message is he trying to send? Politicians, insiders of Pakistani politics and many in the media, have always been aware that Gen. Musharraf, and his government advisers, were at different points in time, in touch with Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of Nawaz Sharif. Many close to Musharraf always thought of Shahbaz Sharif as rational, sane, and a nationalist as compared to Nawaz and between 2002 till 2007 may have been thinking of bringing Shahbaz Sharif into the government. Political rumor mills have been active in that time period, especially after Shahbaz Sharif was allowed to shift to London, in 2004-5, that late Brigadier Niaz was the go between Shahbaz and Musharraf. Ironically Shahbaz lived and conducted all his meetings in the same ‘MayFair Apartments’ opposite Hyde Park London, that have been the center of attention in Supreme Court of Pakistan.

During a dinner discussion in London, in the second half of 2007, one eye witness account describes an interaction whereas one of the closest confidant of Shahbaz Sharif told him: “never forget that Nawaz is the leader”, and apparently grudgingly Shahbaz had agreed.

Brig. Niaz enjoyed huge respect in the military. He was one of the officers who had refused to fire on crowds of protesters in Lahore in 1977, when Gen. Zia had imposed martial law, in defense of a tottering Bhutto Govt in April/May of 1977. Gen. Zia had then ordered the court martial trials of the senior officers who had refused to fire on civilian protesters and Brigadier Niaz and Brigadier Ashraf were amongst the senior officers sacked from Pakistan Army for subordination.

The military finally removed Bhutto from power in a bloodless coup on July 5, 1977. By that time, according to official figures then published in papers, more than 300 people had died in political violence – mostly due to firings by the police and Federal Security Force (FSF). Political circles then claimed that more than a thousand people died across Pakistan during political violence between March 10 and July 5, 1977. Since 65% of Pakistanis today are described to be under 35 years of age, so the memories of that violent political era have faded from the collective mind of Pakistanis.

But all those contacts, those offers were directed towards Shahbaz Sharif, who decided not to accept them because of his concerns for the unity of the family. He often told his confidants that “Musharraf perhaps wants to split the family” and he won’t allow that.

Those close to Shahbaz Sharif in London, between 2005 and 2008, know of such contacts. Shahbaz admitted of them – contacts and offers – to his close confidants in sheer frustration. He was often tempted and tried convincing Nawaz Sharif as he wanted his approval, lest he’d split the family. His confidants also convinced him that whereas he – Shahbaz Sharif – was a brilliant administrator, politics belong to Nawaz. During a dinner discussion in London, in the second half of 2007, one eyewitness account describes an interaction whereas one of the closest confidants of Shahbaz Sharif told him: “never forget that Nawaz is the leader”, and apparently grudgingly Shahbaz had agreed.

But all those contacts, those offers were directed towards Shahbaz Sharif, who decided not to accept them because of his concerns for the unity of the family. He often told his confidants that “Musharraf perhaps wants to split the family” and he won’t allow that. In the beginning of 2007, Shahbaz was especially perturbed by the increasing contacts between Benazir Bhutto, US officials, and Musharraf regime. Shahbaz was worried that a deal with Musharraf would allow Benazir and PPP to enter the power corridors leaving PMLN out in the cold.

It is believed that even the then US president, Bill Clinton, played a role in influencing King Abdullah to persuade Musharraf for the deal. All criminal and corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif and family died as a result of the deal. Even if it was not mentioned specifically in the deal, Musharraf govt never seriously pursued these cases. It lost the incentive, a result of the deal.

Musharraf had admitted in his tv discussions, and also in his book, “In the Line of Fire”, that Shahbaz Sharif never wanted to leave Pakistan in Dec 2000. All political sources confirm that Shahbaz Sharif was forcibly taken off from the jail and put onto the flight to Saudi Arabia because the elders of the family did not want to leave him behind. Shahbaz’s children – Hamza and Suleiman – later spent most of the time in Pakistan. Hamza tended to his family businesses, often away from the limelight. “Political Deal” was cut by elder Mian, father of Nawaz Sharif, principally to bail out Nawaz from his misery. It is believed that even the then US President, Bill Clinton, played a role in influencing King Abdullah to persuade Musharraf for the deal. All criminal and corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif and family died as a result of the deal. Even if it was not mentioned specifically in the deal, Musharraf government never seriously pursued these cases. It lost the incentive as a result of the deal.

Nawaz Sharif is sending the message to his party and media and to the people that he does not cut “deals”. History proves that he has always cut deals. He is the most clever and experienced Pakistani politician in the field. Is he trying to send the message that he is not cutting a deal on Panama. But with whom he could have cut this deal? Why suddenly he is talking of 2007 or before, in 2017, in a parliamentary party meeting, that expects him to talk about Panama case or his decision of stepping aside under current challenges?

But it is believed that though the “political deal” was cut principally for the benefit of Nawaz Sharif who was in bad shape in Attock Jail and was the main target of Army’s wrath – that Nawaz insisted that Shahbaz should be taken along and not left behind. Nawaz Sharif, on Tuesday, while taking to his parliamentary party, again asserted that he was forced into exile and not allowed to come back. In other words, he was insisting that he never cut a deal with Musharraf, or that he does not cut deals. Why is he saying that? All evidence points to the fact that he struck a political deal with Musharraf, to spend 10 years out of politics, out of Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia. When he staged the show of returning back to Pakistan in 2007, for pure public consumption, to dispel the impressions of this deal, Musharraf had called Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Mukrin, who along with the Lebanese leader, Saad Hariri, admitted of the “political deal” brokered between Musharraf and Nawaz, and Musharraf government had leaked copies of the deal to media.

Read more: Saudi Prince & Saad Hariri urge Nawaz to keep his promise – Dawn, Sept 2007

What Kind of Message is Nawaz Sharif trying to send? 

In 2007, all political parties and powerful section of the media with the tacit support of then US administration had united against the Musharraf regime; in retrospect it is obvious that Musharraf was being eased out. Court found space and derived strength from public and media reactions on the streets.

The parliamentary meeting with the PML-N leadership was held after several months, last held in August, and party stalwarts had complained for a long time that the Prime minister and his top team were ignoring them. PTI spokespersons, like the ever chirpy, Fawad Ch, had often made a point, since April 2016, that while whole PML-N is defending Nawaz Sharif in a case that is entirely personal, but PM seldom briefs his party on the Panama. Even in Tuesday’s meeting, Panama Case came up briefly.

The meeting was held, as the nation, and ever chattering electronic and social media, was rife with speculations over a change in the top leadership of the party after the Supreme Court Justices make their announcement on the Nawaz family’s involvement in Panama-Gate. In Pakistan, it has taken over a year for the Panama case to be heard and still the nation is waiting for the judgment. In other nations, Prime Ministers, officials, and corporate executives implicated or blamed in the Panama offshore dealings have long gone from their public offices. In no other country, the matter went to courts; everywhere it was public and media pressure.

Read more: Ruling PMLN puts rumour mill to rest

Will Nawaz Step Down? 

PM Gillani, was not the real executive power; he was merely a “nominee” of the power, Asif Ali Zardari. No such circumstances exist against PM Nawaz Sharif. He enjoys support of Washington, of international community and donors and he deals with a weak divided media and pliant military.

Speculations suggested that the prime minister would step down and allow the party to find a replacement for him. Names of several federal ministers are being thrown around including Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Khawaja Asif, and Ahsan Iqbal. These media speculations are based on expectations that the Supreme Court may give a strong verdict, in the Panama Case, that may compromise the political position of PM Nawaz Sharif. But such is the nature of power politics and political structure of Pakistan that courts have never given strong verdicts against the Executive.

In rare occasions, where such public impressions exist, like the 2007 decision to restore the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the court decision against Musharraf’s emergency or the removal of Prime Minister Gillani, other factors existed that provided space to the court. In 2007, all political parties and powerful section of the media with the tacit support of then US administration had united against the Musharraf regime; in retrospect, it is obvious that Musharraf was being eased out. The court found space and derived strength from public and media reactions on the streets.

PM Gillani, was not the real executive power; he was merely a “nominee” of the power, Asif Ali Zardari. No such circumstances exist against PM Nawaz Sharif. He enjoys the support of Washington, of the international community, and donors and he deals with a weak, divided media and pliant military. The only real opposition comes from PTI, but Nawaz government has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to contain PTI resistance on streets and even in media.

Recent statements of PMLN leaders, like Information Minister, Maryam Aurangzaib and others and articles written by pro-goverrnmnet journalists all indicate that PM’s team expects a decision, in the Panama Case, that will favor them. The recent actions of the government to frighten social media, even exploiting religion, indicate that the only real threat is perceived from thousands of young bloggers and commentators on social media.

The parliamentary meeting suggested that no internal accord or adjustemnt is forthcoming and the prime minister gave no indication that he would be giving up power willingly. Panama-Gate, came up briefly.

This climate may help resolve the mystery around the sudden comments of PM Nawaz Sharif regarding Musharraf offers and his refusals in 2007. Nawaz Sharif is sending the message to his party and media and to the people that he does not “cut deals”. History proves that he has always cut deals. He is the most clever and experienced Pakistani politician in the field. Is he trying to send the message that he is not cutting a deal on Panama? But with whom could he have cut this deal? Why is he suddenly talking of 2007 or before, in 2017, in a parliamentary party meeting, that expects him to talk about Panama case or his decision of stepping aside under current challenges?

The parliamentary meeting suggested that no internal accord or adjustment is forthcoming and the prime minister gave no indication that he would be giving up power willingly. Panama-Gate, came up briefly to which the prime minister is reported as saying that internal unity was needed and that all the party needed to mobilize and support each other. He asked his party members to work at their district and Tehsil levels and help alleviate the problems of the people.

Political rumor mills have been active in that time period, especially after Shahbaz Sharif was allowed to shift to London, in 2004-5, that late Brigadier Niaz was the go between Shahbaz and Musharraf. Ironically Shahbaz lived and conduced all his meetings in the same ‘MayFair Apartments’ opposite Hyde Park London, that have been the center of attention in Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Nawaz, in his speech, spoke of what the party had achieved in the country in the past 3.5 years, including improvement in the economy and CPEC. He particularly mentioned that the government has undertaken energy and infrastructure projects to improve the power shortages and increasing connectivity in the country. “Our government has overcome the issue of power shortage to a great extent and load shedding will be part of history by the year 2018. We are massively investing in motorways, highways and other infrastructure projects as well,” a press release issued by the PM Office media wing quoted him as saying. The prime minister said the overall law and order situation of the country, especially in Karachi and Balochistan, had greatly improved under his government which had paid special attention to the development of Balochistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, promised his party that he would try to convene a meeting every two months to hear their thoughts and complaints. All indications are that he feels himself to be politically safe but he wanted to emphasize that he is not cutting any deals to stay in power.

 

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