December 14, 2007
Anyone but Nawaz
Ali In one final twist of the political saga, Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan two weeks ago, this time unhindered by the police. He and his brother are trying to reconstitute the PML-N and get ready to challenge the Musharraf system. Public opinion polls done last month by the International Republican Institute show Nawaz more popular than either Benazir or Musharraf, particularly in Punjab. This raises the specter of a return to power of Nawaz Sharif, which is terrifying. Nawaz likes to portray himself as a “democrat” who is now standing up for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. The sheer hypocrisy of this is breathtaking when it was Nawaz himself who assaulted the Supreme Court with a goon squad back in 1997 to force it to abandon some inconvenient cases. The Court even appealed to the army at the time to provide it physical protection as the police were under Nawaz’s control, but they refused to act against the Prime Minister. Nawaz also imprisoned Najam Sethi, the editor of the Friday Times, for thirty days after kidnapping him. So much for Nawaz’s respect for the media. But what is most frightening about Nawaz is his lust for absolute power. Many Pakistanis do not remember what happened during his last two years in power. He had managed to win over 2/3rd of the seats in the National Assembly in the 1997 election as Benazir had been hounded out of the country. With this overwhelming majority (won on the backs of only 35% of the popular vote because of Pakistan’s flawed system), he was able to amend the constitution at will. First, he put through amendments to deprive the President of his power to dismiss a government, then followed that up with a ban on “floor-crossing”, which is what they called it when a Member of the National Assembly did not vote in accordance with the party leader. The real effect of this ban was to make Nawaz a dictator as even members of his own party could no longer oppose his whims. Finally, Nawaz was trying to pass an amendment to enforce Sharia in Pakistan, and it would be the right of the Prime Minister to decide what the Sharia was and how to enforce it, with no appeal to the Supreme Court. Nawaz was about to make himself Khilafa of Pakistan, and the only thing in his way were a handful of senators who could only hold out for a few months. Thankfully, Musharraf put an end to Sharif’s power grab, and allowed Pakistan a chance to regain its footing. In addition to his lust for absolute power, Sharif ran a thoroughly crooked government. He most famously confiscated the assets of Pakistanis foreign currency accounts after sanctions were imposed following the nuclear tests. His friends however were able to get their money in full. He then had the gall to send out the Pakistani diplomatic corps to appeal to expatriate Pakistanis to donate to a national foreign exchange fund. He was stealing with one hand and begging us to help him with the other. A cousin of mine who is a prominent businessman in Europe recently visited me. As we talked about Nawaz he told me his experience back in 1997. He had a group of Scandinavian businessmen who wanted to put a 750-million dollar investment into Pakistan, and my cousin tried to help them. He got them a meeting with Nawaz when Nawaz came to Europe, and then followed it up in Islamabad with Ishaq Dar, Nawaz’s Finance Minister. But instead of opening the door to a major investment, Dar demanded that he be paid 10 million dollars by the investors. They took their money elsewhere. Dar was not only incompetent as a Finance Minister, his corruption was emblematic of the corruption that tainted democracy in the 1990’s. Benazir is also corrupt and incompetent, and she is also back in the country. But of the two, Sharif is far more dangerous. He is a close ally of the Jamaat Islami, and his attempt to impose Sharia on Pakistan should not be forgotten. He is also anti-American in his rhetoric, and at this time that is not a good approach for Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan cannot survive another Nawaz term as Prime Minister. Fortunately, the Election Commission has ruled that he is ineligible to run in the upcoming election. This decision has been criticized by some, but hopefully will not be reversed. Comments can reach the author at Nali@socal.rr.com.