Convicted by Court, Nawaz Sharif Goes to Prison as Hero

After weeks of political drama, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan and were arrested at Lahore airport on charges of corruption. The father-daughter duo were convicted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in absentia last week and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
 
As former Ambassador and author Prof Husain Haqqani wrote: “Sharif’s decision to return to Pakistan and go to prison marks a new phase in the country’s politics. Sharif had been a creature of the establishment in the first phase of his political life and only a cautious opponent of the establishment since 1993. He has now become the first Punjabi politician to defy the predominantly Punjabi establishment in ways previously associated with leaders of Pakistan’s smaller ethnic groups.”
 
According to the New York Times: “High drama surrounded the arrests as the authorities blocked roads, shut down mobile and internet service and deployed thousands of officers to thwart supporters of the Sharifs from reaching the airport. The police arrested at least 600 workers of Mr. Sharif’s political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N, on security-related charges in the past several days. Officials from the National Accountability Bureau, the anti-corruption watchdog, placed the Sharifs under arrest as they arrived on an Etihad Airways commercial flight shortly before 9 p.m. They were transferred to Adiala Prison on the outskirts of Rawalpindi.”
 
Contrary to claims by many, supporters of the Sharifs came out in large numbers but were met by the iron hand of the state. “The show of force by the government in Punjab Province, which includes Lahore, was effective in turning back thousands of the Sharifs’ supporters from the airport, but it also appeared to have engendered a backlash. Police officers and members of a paramilitary force known as the Rangers clashed with protesters in several cities in Punjab Province, the country’s most populous and a stronghold of Mr. Sharif’s party, as rallies moved toward Lahore. Entry points to Lahore, the former prime minister’s hometown, were blocked with shipping containers.”
 
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued a stern statement condemning the government’s actions. “The right to assembly and security of person are universal and must be applied as such. We strongly urge the authorities to make every effort to ensure that the little time left for the polls remains peaceful and free of undue influence across the country.” According to Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International “It’s the sort of crude repression that recalls dark periods of Pakistani history under military rule.”
 
Prof Haqqani ends his piece stating: “Even if the military succeeds in installing a selected prime minister into office after the votes are cast on July 25, it will not succeed in its core objective of creating a credible, effective, civilian façade. Sharif’s imprisonment will not end his (or his daughter’s) political careers long after the retirement of the generals and colonels who plotted his downfall.”

Killing Fields of Pakistan

Over 150 people were killed in terror attacks in Pakistan just ten days before the July 25 elections and yet instead of protecting Pakistan’s citizens from the plague of terrorism, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment used its resources and personnel to arrest and detain unarmed supporters of PML leader Nawaz Sharif! That Pakistan’s security establishment has its priorities wrong is evident from the fact even though 371,388 troops are on election duty, they appear more focused on restraining civilian moderate politicians than in foiling terror attacks.
 
On Friday July 14, over 130 people were killed and 150 plus injured in a suicide attack on an election rally in Mastung, Baluchistan. Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, candidate of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) was among 128 people killed in a suicide attack on an election gathering just 60 km south-west of Quetta. Over 150 people were injured. Siraj Raisani was the younger brother of former chief minister of Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani.
 
According to a story in Dawn, “The blast had occurred when Siraj Raisani accompanied by his son was coming back from a stadium after distributing prizes among the players of a football match. “The suicide bomber blew himself up when local leaders were speaking at the gathering,” said a survivor who had received injuries.“The suicide bomber went near the stage where Siraj Raisani and other leaders were sitting and detonated the explosive-laden jacket he was wearing,” he said.”
 
The terrorist group Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan’s ‘Ghazi force Lal Masjid’ wing claimed responsibility for the attack “in a Whatsapp message.” Just two weeks earlier, “rockets were fired at the houses of Zahoor Buledi, BAP candidate for a provincial assembly seat, in Buleda and NP candidate Khair Jan Baloch in Jhaoo.”
 
A stern statement issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed “serious concern over the emerging pattern of violence” before the upcoming elections.
 
The HRCP addressed its questions to the caretaker government stating: “The numbing scale of yesterday’s attack in Mastung – now the third time an election gathering or political candidate has been targeted in three days – means asking some hard questions, not only of the civilian government, but also its security apparatus. Despite the excessive presence of security forces in Balochistan, the capacity of militants to strike on this scale appears to be intact.”
 
HRCP also reiterated: “the need for – and the right of – political candidates to be provided adequate security on the campaign trail. Election gatherings must not become killing fields. HRCP expresses its deepest condolences with the families of all those killed in Mastung and Bannu.”

Another election, Another Assassination

Pakistan ranks low on most human development and economic indices in the world. Where it does rank high is on how dangerous the country is for minorities, women, journalists and media and liberal and progressive civilian politicians. Yesterday another liberal politician, Haroon Bilour, of the nationalist Pashtun political party, Awami National Party (ANP) was assassinated near Peshawar.

This is not the first time and unfortunately we believe this will not be last time that a liberal politician is killed during election season in Pakistan. Both during the 2008 and 2013 elections election rallies of progressive political parties were attacked and liberal politicians were killed. Starting with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, suicide bombers targeted the ANP and the PPP during the pre-election season in February 2008.

During the 2013 elections, the TTP claimed responsibility for bombings against any liberal independent candidates. The TTP also targeted the ANP by bombing their candidates electoral offices in Kohat and Peshawar. Headquarters of the MQM were targeted repeatedly in May 2013. PPP politicians were targeted and former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider was abducted in May 2013 and only rescued three years later in 2016.

ANP leader Barrister Haroon Bilour, whose father Bashir Bilour was killed by a TTP suicide attack in 2012, was among 20 people killed and 62 people injured during a suicide attack again claimed by the TTP. “The attacker detonated his explosive belt close to the ANP leader’s vehicle as he approached a rally organized to promote his election in the Yakatoot area of the provincial capital. Rescue teams and security officials shifted the deceased and injured to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) soon after the attack. Claiming responsibility for the attack, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson termed the assassination “revenge for ANP’s previous government”. The statement warns of further attacks.

This assassination of a liberal politician comes just a few months after the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar “directed police chiefs of all provinces to withdraw within 24 hours the security protocol provided to influential individuals not entitled to official security.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) “expressed grave concern ‘at this horrific development in the run-up to the elections. That a political candidate peacefully exercising his right to campaign was targeted in so craven a manner is a sign of the depths to which this election has sunk. The sickening irony of Haroon Bilour having been assassinated a stone’s throw from where his father, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, was similarly assassinated in 2012, should not be lost on any of us.

HRCP issued a strongly worded statement “It goes without saying that we simply cannot afford to repeat the experience of the 2013 elections, in which candidates from selected parties were similarly targeted. This is already a problematic election: for it to be further disfigured – now by terror – is unacceptable.”

Further, the HRCP “demands that the state unequivocally condemn the use of wanton violence by non-state actors to disrupt the election process. Moreover, based on the National Counter-Terrorism Authority’s recent intelligence on threats to other political candidates, the state must ensure that such persons are given adequate protection during their campaigns.’”

‘Mainstreaming’ Extremists, Marginalizing Moderates: Pakistan’s Sad Trajectory

In October 2017 the DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor gave a press conference in which he spoke about how the security establishment wanted to “integrate” militant groups into the “mainstream” of Pakistani politics. “It is in my knowledge that the government has started some discussion over it, that, how do we mainstream them, so that they could do constructive contribution.”
 
In a recent piece, Raza Rumi, editor of The Daily Times, Raza Rumi refers to the fact that a “retired general announced on national TV last year that such a plan had been under consideration but former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not in favour of implementing that. Now that the political configuration has changed, it seems that the plan is being quietly implemented and the first part is to allow these groups to field candidates in the elections. Since Nawaz Sharif is on the wrong side of the establishment, there is an added incentive to mainstreaming to undercut the support of conservative voters that Sharif enjoyed over the decades, especially in the Punjab.”
 
Since then we have witnessed this constant mainstreaming of militant groups like the Milli Muslim League (MML) founded by Lashkar e Taiba chief and global jihadi Hafiz Saeed, the Sunni Deobandi organization Ahl e Sunnat Wa Jamaat (ASWJ) – which is the ideological forefather of the Sunni sectarian group Sipaha e Sahaba and its offshoot the Lashkar e Jhangvi – and Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) led by militant Barelvi cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
 
Rumi seeks to explain this phenomenon. Each of these groups has a different sectarian leaning: Ahl e Hadith, Deobandi and Barelvi and Rumi argues that “sectarian mobilisation is underway to undermine the PMLN voter base. Whether this will work or not, we shall find out on July 25. One thing is clear that once such religious passions are out of the bottle, they acquire a life of their own. Moreover, such mobilisation will also affect the PTI votes as it also attracts, among others, the socially conservative voters.”
 
According to Rumi, the calculation behind allowing TLP to run is that it will hurt the votes of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – N (PMLN). “PMLN was accused of tampering with the oath for public office holders regarding the finality of Prophethood. Massive propaganda and street protests have made many a voter believe in this bogus charge. Imran Khan and his current chief ally Sheikh Rasheed have been fanning this issue and election posters of some PTI candidates also refer to this issue.”

 

Listen to the Business Community: ‘Pakistan’s Real Problems are at Home’

Instead of worrying about what is happening in neighboring countries, Pakistan’s first concern should be what is happening internally. This was the recommendation of the President of Pakistan’s leading business federation, the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI).
 
For decades when confronted with the fact that Pakistan has a water problem, not enough water for irrigation and not enough for drinking or sanitation, Islamabad’s explanation has been to blame India and say that India has broken the Indus Waters Treaty and extracted more water than it is allowed.
 
Mr Ghazanfar Bilour, President of FPCCI, asked the right question: Why is it that Pakistan’s leaders are “more concerned about dams being built by a neighbouring country and less concerned about building dams itself.” He further stated that all of Pakistan’s efforts to date to prevent “other countries” (namely India) “from building dams have remained futile as international institutions and the world community is not supporting our stance.” Hence, what Pakistan should do is instead is to “stop our efforts on the external front and focus on the internal front to ensure availability of water to save Pakistan.”
 
Mr Bilour pointed out that what Pakistan faced was not water scarcity but a lack of water conservation. “Egypt has the capacity to store water enough for 1000 days while Israel having its 60 percent area as the desert is exporting water while Pakistan can store water for thirty days.”
 
His recommendations were to build small dams “across the country as mega projects attract controversies which are against the national interests” and further to find some way to prevent the wastage of “thirty million acre-foot or ten trillion gallons of water every year to the sea which can be used to quench the thirst of masses while revolutionising the agricultural and industrial sector.”