August Issue 2017
The Blame Game
Apart from what is being seen as the First Family’s unbridled greed for money, Nawaz Sharif’s many woes can also be blamed on his troubled relations with the military establishment and his politically naive, over-ambitious daughter and heir to the Sharif mantle, Maryam Nawaz, who allegedly ran a media campaign maligning the army.
From day one, Sharif was at variance with the army on key national policy issues, such as combating terrorism and ties with India. Sharif wanted a soft approach on both these fronts. It was the then army chief General (R) Raheel Sharif, who decided to take on Taliban militants in North Waziristan through Operation Zarb-e-Azb, following the dastardly attack on the Army Public School, Peshawar, in December 2014. It was only after the military began its operations that the Sharif government started to endorse them. But the Sharif government was constantly taken to task for remaining indifferent to the holistic approach in fighting terrorism that was suggested in the National Action Plan (NAP) by the all-parties moot.
Sharif’s first direct clash with the army began when he moved to institute a case against former military ruler, General (R) Pervez Musharraf, on treason charges. In doing so, he backtracked on the promise of not moving against the general, that he, along with his brother Shahbaz Sharif and then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar, had made to the military, in their private meetings with top army generals. This not only earned him the ire of the khakis but annoyed Nisar, who felt betrayed and let down. From that day on, Nisar was sidelined.
Sharif’s friendly ties with certain Indian leaders and businessmen have been an open secret. Former Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, declined an invitation to attend Sharif’s oath-taking ceremony in Islamabad, but Sharif rushed to Delhi to attend the inaugural ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His meeting with Indian business tycoon and personal friend, Sajjan Jindal, in Delhi along with his family members, bypassing the Pakistan High Commission, didn’t go down well in certain quarters.
Then, Sharif’s inviting Modi to his Lahore residence for the wedding of his granddaughter, without taking the military establishment and the Foreign Office into confidence, proved to be the last straw. Sharif’s relations with the then army chief, General (R) Raheel Sharif, who had saved Sharif’s government at the time of the first dharna held by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, in August 2014, touched a new low.
A series of events took place that further deepened the mistrust between Sharif and the army. Around the time that Kulbhushan Yadev’s death sentence was announced, Sharif invited Jindal for talks to his private residence in Murree. This venue and manner of holding talks was viewed as being “conspiratorial.” In fact, one of the criticisms levelled against Sharif was that he never took a public position on Yadev, the Indian spy-cum-terrorist caught by the Pakistan Army in Balochistan. Additionally, he was not very forceful in his support for the Kashmiri independence struggle in Srinagar.
On the Afghan front, too, Sharif bypassed the establishment and the Foreign Office, relying more on his private emissary and Pakhtun nationalist, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, to negotiate with the Kabul administration. Sharif’s media managers, allegedly supervised by his daughter, planted stories in the local and foreign media, that aimed to create the impression that the military establishment was secretly supporting militants. This reached its climax when Dawn, a leading Pakistani daily , ran a story revealing a civil-military rift in a National Security Committee meeting in October 2016. The story was said to have been planted. Nisar, in his news conference on July 27, hinted that the PML-N may have played a role in the so-called ‘Dawn Leaks.’
When COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa took over as army chief in November 2016, he made efforts to mend his ties with the prime minister. He immediately made several transfers in the top command of the army, including the ISI chief and DG-ISPR, to allay Sharif’s fears. Relations took a downward turn again when Sharif backed down on his commitment to fully implement the findings of the inquiry report on Dawn Leaks. Consequently, the DG-ISPR’s Twitter account, rejected the government’s action on the issue. Sharif got so annoyed by this that he demanded that the DG-ISPR withdraw his tweet. The army chief chose to eat humble pie.
Interestingly, while Sharif was at loggerheads with the military high-command, he deprived himself of his troubleshooters: his younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif and Nisar, who could mediate with the generals. Instead, increasingly he started relying on Ishaq Dar and Khawaja Asif for this purpose – a move that proved to be counter-productive.
When the Supreme Court took the Panama Case up for hearing, the military did not come to the rescue of the beleaguered prime minister. In fact, a representative from the ISI and another from the military intelligence served on the JIT that was tasked with investigating the Sharifs – a fact that did not go down well with the First Family.