According to Benazir Bhutto (BB), the Sharifs had formulated a plan for complete political and financial control of the country. Five impediments were identified: the opposition, the President, Armed Forces, Judiciary, and Media. At that time, BB’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was the main opposition. The President had the power to dismiss the Prime Minister under Article 58(2b). The Armed Forces always kept a close watch on the rulers, Judiciary had the power to intervene, and the Media had the power to swing public opinion. One by one, they went after all of them.
The Bhutto family was brutally vandalized, and no one was spared; they were even declared traitors. The onslaught against their mentor, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, was mind-boggling. The Armed Forces proved to be a harder nut to crack, but they did manage to send General Jehangir Karamat, the then COAS (Chief of Army Staff), home. The Media/Press was also tamed. Those who did not fall in line were victimized. It was an all-out war for control. The “Sharif Dynasty” had to be built on new foundations away from Gawalmandi, from where they had emerged in the political arena.
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Understanding the matter better
Mian Muhammad Sharif (Abba Gi), the founder, first conceived the “Ittefaq Group” together with his six brothers, and then the “Sharif Group” with his three sons. When he succeeded in launching Nawaz Sharif (NS) as PM and Shahbaz Sharif as CM (Chief Minister), he then started to mentor his eldest grandson, Hussain Nawaz Sharif, to be his successor in running the business empire.
As a child of the Muslim League, I have closely followed the decline of the founding party of Pakistan. My late father, Nazir Ahmed Malik, joined the Muslim Students Federation in 1935 and then became a member of the All India Muslim League (AIML). Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as the President of AIML, tried to lay the foundations of a new entity, but when his efforts were thwarted, he left in frustration never to return. Attrition started, and many stalwarts of the movement left. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) emerged as a political face of the establishment and a party of interests devoid of ideology.
In the first free and fair elections in 1970, the Sarkari League of Ayub Khan was defeated. In East Pakistan, it was the Awami League and the People’s Party in the West that won big. Unfortunately, Quaid’s Pakistan was dismembered, but an era of civilian supremacy started, which continued until July 1977 when another brand of PML was launched to corner PPP, the dominant democratic entity of its time.
In his second term of office, NS managed to get an absolute majority. He could now introduce constitutional amendments. President Farooq Leghari, who had helped PML-N by dismissing the government of his own party, was the first target. Zia’s Article 58 (2b) was withdrawn. When the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) tried to control the corruption of the regime, the court came under attack, and the judges had to run for cover. The CJP sought help from the COAS, who was directed to come through the official channel. NS used his money to divide the Judges.
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The full court decided that the senior-most judge should lead the bench as CJ. As incumbent CJP, Sajjad Ali Shah was not the senior-most, he was deseated. Thus NS succeeded in appointing his own man to lead the Judiciary. He then targeted the President, who was made to resign. To reward Rafiq Tarrar for his efforts in toppling the CJP, he was elected President. Then came the turn of the COAS, and research was carried out to find his weak spots. His tax returns were also scrutinized, and the PM and his team were looking for an opportunity to get rid of him. The COAS delivered a speech at the Naval Staff College at Lahore, in which he suggested the formation of a National Security Council to improve coordination between the civilian authority and the Armed Forces. The PM sent the COAS on forced leave in violation of the laid-down procedures. He then appointed a new COAS of his own choice.
At this stage, NS decided to establish his long-term rule. A bill was moved in the National Assembly (NA) to declare NS as Amir-ul-Mominin or Khalifa-e-Waqt. While the NA was compliant, the Senate refused to pass the bill. Comrade Aitzaz Ahsan, as the leader of the opposition, stood in the way, and NS’s dream was shattered. Looking to tighten his grip over power, NS then decided to tame the newly appointed COAS. When an attempt was made to divide the Army by dismissing the COAS and replacing him with his loyalist, his regime was toppled.
The country came under Martial Law for the fourth time
Keeping the traditions of intervention followed by a political face alive, Pervez Musharraf launched his brand of Muslim League (PML-Quaid). NS was tried and convicted for hijacking an airplane and risking the lives of passengers. Aminullah Chaudhry, the chief of CAA (Civilian Aviation Authority), was also imprisoned with NS and his family. Abba Gi intervened at this
The Sharif dynasty has managed to stage a comeback for the third time through the ‘Lawyer’s Movement.’ To strengthen their grip on power, they resorted to blackmail through audio/video recordings, which were carried out in a ‘Media Cell’ created in the PM House. However, their actions were exposed by the Dawn Leaks scandal, leading to a serious response from the military. The Information Minister was sacked to contain the situation, but the ‘Panama Papers’ eventually exposed the corruption of the powerful Sharif family, resulting in the downfall of its head. Nawaz Sharif was convicted and disqualified for life, but he managed to fake his medical tests and escape to London from his prison cell in Kot Lakhpat jail. Currently, the Sharifs are implementing the ‘London Plan’ to stage another comeback, but Imran Khan’s party is standing firm despite numerous court cases and an assassination attempt.
In the 1970 electoral contest, Ayub Khan’s PML-Con was eliminated, and despite her spirited fightback, Benazir Bhutto could not push out Zia’s PML-N from the political arena, mainly due to support from the establishment. Her assassination in 2007 resulted in the shock defeat of Musharraf’s PML-Q, and her party, led by her husband, regained power. Another free and fair election in 2023 could result in a significant political clean-up, similar to what happened in 1970. The political face of the establishment has no future, and the rise of the Constitution after 50 years of its enactment is inevitable.
PML-Q is almost dead, and now it’s the turn of PML-N to be buried in the graveyard of democracy. The dream of the Sharif dynasty for total control of the country may finally be shattered this time around, paving the way for the republic to rise from the ashes. After 75 years of independence, Pakistan may finally emerge as a constitutional democracy, as envisioned by its founding fathers. The Sharifs may finally become history, just like the Mongols and Mughals before them.
The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.