Cricketing legend turned political leader Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has taken to the streets to demand the immediate ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The armed forces are waiting in the wings to see if they will have to step into the breach to restore order in the only way they know. And across the border, India is working hard to isolate Pakistan in the international community. How come troubles are piling on Nawaz Sharif now?
Dr.Smruti S.Pattanaik, Research Fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses, answers questions from NewsIn.Asia on why Nawaz Sharif is in deep water now.
Q: Why has Imran Khan chosen the present time to mount pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?
A: Imran wants to put pressure on Nawaz who is already under tremendous stress because of the deteriorating civil-military relations. The army is not happy with the government’s delaying tactics in taking up its anti-terror plan, especially the National Action Plan (NAP).
Q: Is Nawaz Sharif particularly weak now and vulnerable? Has his administration been devoid of achievements?
A: Nawaz is weak and vulnerable. The army is angry with the selective leak to the Dawn newspaper regarding a civil-military rift over how to tackle terrorism especially after India upped the ante following the attack on an Indian army camp at Uri in Kashmir. Due to his apprehensions regarding the army and its ability to encroach into the civilian sphere, Nawaz kept defense and foreign affairs portfolios under him. He took advisers on foreign affairs and National Security and had a Deputy Defense Minister too.
But Nawaz did not call cabinet meetings regularly and was absent from Parliament most of the time. The army was becoming more popular. Army chief Gen.Raheel Sharif was more popular than Nawaz, especially after the Zarb-e-Azb anti-terror operation. Moreover, Nawaz’s position was undermined with the accusation of rigging the elections. The Panama Papers leak, which showed his family benefitting from off shore investments, further dented his image.
While the army wants to maintain the current balance in civil-military relations, Imran Khan wants to make inroads into Punjab, which Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) dominates. Imran cannot achieve his objectives without the removal of Nawaz Sharif.
Q: What is Nawaz’s standing among the voters?
A: A Gallup poll done three days ago says that Nawaz’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) continues to be a popular party. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto, is in bad shape and Imran’s influence is limited to pockets in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunwala. The PML-N and the PTI have the same vote bank – rightist elements. Thus, the competition between them is intense. Moreover Punjab, where they compete, is the most populous province. Controlling Punjab is therefore important. The PTI has a presence in the southern Punjab. Apart from KP, it got the second largest number of seats in Punjab. But still I feel that PTI cannot be a major challenge unless the army supports it.
Q: what is the impact of the Panama Papers leak?
A: All the opposition parties support Imran’s agenda on the Panama Papers. They want Sharif to be investigated and demand his resignation. But PPP and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUEI-F) led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman do not want military rule or an unconstitutional takeover of power.
Q:Do you think Nawaz did not do enough to capitalize on the unrest in Kashmir?
A: India-Pakistan relations is in Army’s hands. All the political parties have a common stand on Kashmir. Beyond a point Nawaz cannot leverage much on the Kashmir issue. But he was annoyed that Pakistan got internationally isolated after the Uri attack. Reportedly, Shahbaz Sharif and the ISI chief had a heated argument over the Establishment’s approach to terrorism. The Sharif government felt that going after terrorists selectively is not helping Pakistan.
Q: Did Nawaz play ball with the army on terrorism and Kashmir? Does the army and ISI find him to be inadequate?
A: On the Kashmir issue , the government and the army are on same page. But on the issue of terrorism there are differences. Nawaz does not want the army to clean up Punjab. The army wants to keep the pressure on Nawaz so that he doesn’t assert himself much.
Q: How do u see the recent calls for Gen. Raheel Sharif to be made Field Marshal?
A: This is done by some people who support the army and want the army to have more power. Gen. Raheel is popular and the army did everything to publicize his efforts and leadership in addressing the issue of terrorism. In fact posters and large hoardings came up in Lahore and other places hailing the role of Raheel.
Q: Does Raheel have political ambitions and is he using Imran as a cat’s paw to oust Nawaz in a civilian coup?
A: Raheel does not appear to have political ambitions. The only objective the army has is that it should have the last word in national security affairs. It will not tolerate any interference in its institutional affairs. However, slowly, it is getting ingress into internal security matters. Imran is being used to remind Sharif of his limits and not to expand his responsibility to encroach on what army perceives as it’s domain.