On November 18, 1919, Mian Muhammad Sharif was born in the house of Mian Muhammad Bakhsh, a poor Kashmiri trader in JatiUmra, Amritsar. On January 5, 1928, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was born in the house of Khan Buhadar Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, in Larkana, Sindh. Mian Sharif was one among the seven brothers, who moved to Lahore to study at Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) College; the rest of the family too relocated to Lahore in 1936 for better economic opportunities. Bhutto, on the other hand, was educated at the University of California, Berkley and the University of Oxford, and trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn, before entering the political world as one of President Iskandar Mirza’s cabinet members.
Read more: Pakistan Politics: Race to the bottom
Sharif worked in a Lahore steel factory, owned by a Hindu businessman with borrowed money, in 1939 he established a small steel unit. With hard work, soon his business boomed to become among the largest businesses in Punjab.
Bhutto founded the Pakistan PeoplesParty in 1967 on a socialist platform, won a majority of seats in West Pakistan in 1970 elections and became President (1971) and Prime Minister(1973).
Never in their wildest imaginations could these two have thought that the destinies of their families were knotted together.
“Destiny cuts the cake of love,
Three slices to some,
To others, a crumb.” – Stefano Benni (Italian poet)
While Sharif’s industry kept expanding, Bhutto embarked on the implementation of his elections manifesto of “Socialism is our economy”. Nationalisation (when the government takes control of anything that is owned privately) was the cornerstone of the campaign. In practical terms, it meant the promised nationalization of banks and basic industries, increasing the power of organized labor, pruning the power of the landlords, improving the efficiency of the administration by getting rid of corrupt and inefficient government servants, and, above all, removing the threat of a military take over once again.
When PPP took over the government, 80% of the industrial and banking assets of Pakistan were owned by members of 22 families and they became a prime political target. The house of the Saigols headed the list, whereas Fancy Group was at the bottom, Gandhara Industry and Gohar Ayub Khan were at 18,19.
After two months of Bhutto’s resuming office, the government took over 32 industries from the private sector. These include iron and steel, basic metal, heavy engineering, heavy electrical, assembly and manufacture of motor vehicles, tractor plant Assembly and manufacturing heavy and basic chemicals, petrol chemicals, cement industries, electricity, gas and oil refining. 26 vegetable ghee units were nationalized in September 1973, banks followed in 1974, and 300 small units of cotton ginning, rice husking, flour mills were also taken into control in 1976. After the military coup in 1977, with a deconstruction of Bhutto, denationalization also began.
Nationalization was the first encounter between the two families when Bhutto not only nationalised Sharif’s business but also the college where he studied, renaming it Government Islamia College, none knew that many more were to follow. It was probably the deprivation, frustration and loss of hope after nationalisation of his business and his acumen that made Sharif realize that without adequate political clout, business in Pakistan can’t thrive.
Close encounters of political kinds
“We are not alone- but too many.”
Based on the principle of “enemy’s enemy is my friend”, with his business returned to him, a rejuvenated Sharif made contacts with the right people in Zia’s Martial Law. Lt. Gen. (R) Ghulam Gillani Khan became the Chief Architect and one among many military men who patronised, supported and nurtured Sharif family’s entry and sustenance into politics and power corridors. The biggest break came not in 1981 when he was “picked up” to be Punjab Finance Minister or even in 1985 when he was “selected” to be Chief Minister Punjab but in 3 days- between 16-19 November 1988 that catapulted an “also-ran” into a family that has dominated the political discourse in Punjab and Pakistan since then. Elections to the National and Provincial assemblies then were held within a gap of three days
On 16 Nov, 1988 as results of National Assembly elections started pouring in withBenazir Bhutto winning, Sharifs went into overdrive. “Egged on”, Nawaz Sharif raised the slogan of Punjabism. The three days (and the nights), while PPP was in a euphoric slumber, Nawaz Sharifs, their political and bureaucratic teams toiled. With his handpicked bureaucracy, he not only turned the tide and voters’ trend in his favour, he turned the tables on a complacent PPP.
PPP won 93 of the 237 NA General seats to (the 9 parties alliance) IJI’s 54. In Punjab, PPP won 53 NA seats to IJI’s 45. On 19 Nov, in the Punjab provincial assembly, IJI won 154 seats to PPP 96. With 60% of Pakistan in the purse and Centre, Sindh and KP in the handbag, the first round between Sharif’s son and ZAB’s daughter could be termed a draw. The second round (1990) went completely to Sharifs, the third (1993) back to Bhuttos, while the fourth (1997) overwhelmingly to Sharifs.
Here Pakistan took the customary 10 years to break for Martial Law (1999-2008).
Welcome back after the Martial Lawbreaker and in the first round (2008), PPP retained a slight edge as Centre, Sindh, Baluchistan, KPwent in the handbag (turned purse), as Punjab again went to PML-N. The umpires, who in the first round were working behind the scene, came to the front and introduce a new variety of fast-growing “Cuscutareflexa” plants in the Hanging Gardens of Pakistan. This new variety raised its head in the second round (2013) that went to PML-N but with its parasitical qualities had already started feeding on the existing plants.
The fourth round (2018) saw the new variety dominate, with Centre, Punjab, KP and Baluchistan in the bag, leaving one high and the other dry. In 2022, the old guards entered into a marriage of inconvenience, with the umpire securing the knot and “managing” to get rid of the Imran as a Prime Minister in the Chinese year of the Tiger, not to be confused with the election symbol of a political party in Pakistan.
Read more: Behind the façade in Pakistan’s politics
THE GT Road phenomenon
Voting behavior in Pakistan is shaped by sociocultural influences and by Media (print to start with, electronic and now Social Media). At the socio-cultural level, feudal structures and power, religion, caste system and ethnicity have major impacts. Disinformation, rumours, conspiracy theories and fake news have become the ideal tools to manipulate or sway votes in favour of or against a political party or a candidate.
Biradari (family, kinship or ethnicity bonds) plays a major role in voting patterns. It has been estimated that close to 66.7% of people vote along baradari lines, both in the rural and urban areas. This not only weakens political parties but also affects democratic outcomes. This is more pronounced in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, where it is normal for a whole village to en-bloc vote for a candidate or a party. The village elite, who help people with their day-to-day issues, too have influence when it comes to elections.
Another important factor in Pakistani politics is the religious vote. The Right-of-Centre PML-N has traditionally benefited from the religious vote; either directly through votes casted in its favour or through political alliances formed. During a by-election campaign for a provincial assembly seat in Jhang in 2010, the current Interior Minister,Rana Sanaullah visited a madrasa affiliated with the ASWJ and was seen campaigning alongside its leader, Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi.
A case study of 2018 General election, “Religion and Electoral Politics in Punjab (Bashir and Khalid 2019) analysed the overall trend of religious votes in Pakistan and Punjab and found that it was almost identical. Another interesting finding of the research was that the ratio of religious votes in Punjab was relatively less than that of Pakistan. In Pakistan, religious parties have received an average of 7.55% vote in all the 11 general elections. Whereas, in Punjab the average vote of religious parties is around 5%. 2018 election was slightly different as religious parties vote bank got an upward lift securing third highest number of votes since 1970 and 2002 elections. In the 1970 elections, religious parties secured 19.865% of the total votes, coming down to 6.69% in 2002 elections. In 2018, it increased by 1.32% as compared to the overall percent votes of previous ten general elections.
PML-N traditionally enjoyed strong urban voters base known as the “GT Road” phenomenon. Due to high population density along GT Road, number of National and Provincial Assembly seats is greater. Prior to production of PTI, two-party system prevailed in Pakistan.Due to the incessant smear campaign, PPP lost its grounds Punjab and PML-N emerged as the single party with a predominant majority in the National Assembly diluting the concept of representative federalism.
For the 2018 elections, a new religious party “Tahreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan” (TLP), a right-wing SunniBarelviwas produced, introduced and launched.This severely dented PML-N as well as the Deobandi votes, benefitting PTI in the process.
Have the Sharifs perfected the art of political science?
As the myth goes, in many handmade Persian rugs and carpets, there is a deliberate mistake. Muslims believe only Allah makes things perfectly, and therefore to weave a perfect rug or carpet would be an offence to Allah.
Going by the myth, even the Sharifs have not perfected the art of politics despite having brothers, sons, daughters, and grandchildren in politics as prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, Members National and Provincial Assemblies and a family-owned right-of-Centre political party. Since 1988, Sharifs served for a total of around 11 years at the center and 14 years at Punjab; Bhuttostoo had 10 years at Centre and 19 at Sindh. Unlike the Bhuttos or Imran, PMLN is not a cult, it is expediency, a realm, a conglomerate of sorts.
How did they do it?
- Having an eye for talent in the political arena and in the bureaucracy nicknamed ICS (Ittefaq Civil Service), for Sharifs, it is “a place for every person and everyone in her/his place”. While in opposition, Imranby’s name targeted bureaucrats were aligned with Sharifs. When however, in power, he inducted them into Insaf Civil Servants (ICS acronym remained) and posted most of them to key positions. Bhuttos go by “no place for nobody and nobody at any place” and Imran prefers a musical chair.
- Sharifs have adopted Zia’s model of doling out development funds to keep political class happy, away from doing anything meaningful while engaged in political corruption.
- Sharifs have expertise in electoral engineering; who would be the candidate for the National Assembly seat and who would be his running mates at the Provincial Assembly seats.
- Being Right-of-Centre and masters of politics of appeasement, Sharifs have used the religion card well, especially when it comes to the Bhuttos.
- Sharifs have generally focussed on major cities- the GT Road politics, much like the “Bible Belt” in the US.
- Nawaz Sharif is vengeful. Even at the cost of his government, political career and his life, he instituted a case against Gen. Musharraf. Benazir Bhuttoforgave Zia and his accomplices for murdering her father; instead she immortalized the saying, “democracy is the best revenge”.
- Nawaz is not a great mathematician and have miscalculated big time, the biggest was choosing Gen. Butt to replace Gen. Musharraf as the Army Chief and getting replaced in the process.
- Like Imran, Nawaz too is a narcissist. He doesn’t like the parliament and instead of being a Prime Minister, would rather be authoritarian heads of state. Both believe in a large, good-for-nothing cabinet while decision-making is left to a few confidants, preferably family members and implemented by trusted bureaucrats.
Future is buried in the past
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” -Theodore Hook, English Man of Letters
For most of its independent life, Pakistan has remained unsettled with brief periods of imposed unnatural calm. The current situation can, in some ways be compared to 1977 where most of the national and global powers had arrayed against Bhutto, who was in power. Most of the political forces and military (despite claiming to be the now smeared “neutral”) are grouped against Imran, recently removed from power. Current and future beneficiaries of the adventure appear to be the Sharifs. They could, however, be the biggest losers if they:
- Fail to rise up to the grave challenge of stabilizing the economy before the next elections
- Prove corruption against Imran or his close cohorts. In the six weeks since his removal, except for the ToushaKhana and the elusive Gogi Khan, nothing much has come out. Principal reason is that the main characters of corruption scandals are once again part of the fragmented ruling coalition.
Challenges and opportunities
The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty – Winston Churchill
Can Sharifs, now in a state of paralysis think differently, as Judith McNaught, American author said, “If you don’t play, you can’t win” or would they stick to the old tricks and do nothing?
Imran faces a bigger challenge than Sharif’s right now. He now heads one of the biggest political forces and has effectively replaced PPP as an All Pakistan Political party with a presence in length and breadth of the country. Will Imran exhibit the kind of leadership required of the status bestowed on him or will he squander this opportunity as he did when in power, reference my previous article (https://www.globalvillagespace.com/an-analysis-of-imran-khans-leadership/)?
In the early ‘30s as the Hitler juggernaut was on the roll, a Sturmabteilung (Nazi paramilitary wing) sergeant explained: ‘Our opponents committed a fundamental error when equating us as a party with the Economic Party, the Democrats or the Marxist parties. All these parties were only interest groups, they lacked soul, spiritual ties. Adolf Hitler emerged as the bearer of a new political religion”, excerpt from Niall Ferguson, “The Square and the Tower.”
Will the power that he derives from his control over the youth and his success from the urban voting trend be used to continue on the suicidal path and further deepen the fault lines or will it translate into taking Pakistan out of its current political instability? So far, his fiery speeches and vengeance reflect his leaning towards mounting violence and further polarisation in the society that is portrayed as a revolution.
Read more: Pakistani politics in crises?
Military leadership is, for the first facing the unique challenge posed by the political class on both sides where it has been openly dragged into a quagmire and public debate and glare. Appeasement by the military will further embolden Imran Khan at the cost of stability and may ultimately result in more unconstitutional moves.
Other political leaders too are at loss to face the current turmoil and are in a state of paralysis. Would it be prudent to set a date for fresh elections rather than allow further upsurge of the mayhem? There will be no beneficiary of any delay in taking positively bold and aggressive decisions as Pakistan itself is facing grave challenges of momentous magnitude.
The writer is an Inspector General of Police (Retired) and Former National Coordinator National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Pakistan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.