Sharif Done in By Absolute Power

Gulf News, September 12, 2007

Pakistan is a country run under the law of rulers not one that is subject to rule of law. If evidence was needed of this reality, it was provided on September 10 with the deportation of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan had only recently recognised. Sharif’s “inalienable right” as a citizen to return to the country from an exile imposed on him by an unelected government. Instead of allowing Sharif to exercise his right, the government exiled him again.

The Musharraf regime claims that Sharif entered into an agreement seven years ago to stay out of the country and its politics for 10 years.

The agreement is not even a written contract. Only in a state controlled by lawless coup-makers can an agreement of this nature trump the constitutional judgement of the country’s highest court.

Sharif’s banishment is indeed a sad development but it cannot be said that it was unexpected. On legal and moral grounds there is no justification for the government’s uncivil attitude towards the former prime minister.

That said, Sharif made an error in political judgement by failing to correctly estimate his strengths as well as his weaknesses. He was swayed by Pakistan’s many armchair revolutionaries into believing that his immediate return to the country would make him more popular than Benazir Bhutto. But the armchair revolutionaries advocating defiance stayed at home on the day of Sharif’s arrival, leaving others to man the barricades. The regime shamelessly arrested hundreds of people and used a security blanket to block significant demonstrations of support for Sharif.

If the US needed a reminder that Musharraf is too distracted by domestic politics to continue the hunt for terrorists it was provided by the mobilisation of thousands of security personnel to deal with a single political opponent.

Commandos surrounded Sharif’s plane immediately after it landed in Islamabad, according to media reports, even though the US is paying top dollar for them to search and surround known Islamist terrorists.

The entire event exposed the weakness of Musharraf’s regime and the disastrous consequences of arbitrary governance. None of the military officers and civil servants engaged in the operation against Sharif had the moral courage to refuse the unlawful orders of their superiors.


Pakistan became the object of international ridicule once more, with images on television of plainclothesmen shoving a former elected prime minister. Had Musharraf obeyed the Supreme Court’s judgement and allowed Sharif to return, heavens would not have fallen. But Pakistan’s dictators have a set pattern as, unfortunately, do Pakistan’s political leaders.

Musharraf chose to stick to the authoritarian blueprint of tolerating no challenge to his absolute power. Sharif chose unplanned defiance as the route to instant popularity. The cause of democracy in Pakistan was hardly advanced.

Instead of breaking ranks with Bhutto over negotiating with an unlawful regime, it might have been better if Sharif had correctly estimated his ability to mount a street challenge and not exposed himself to a second deportation.

He could then have worked with Bhutto to negotiate a settlement for return of democracy.

Musharraf’s regime looks weaker by the day because it lacks legitimacy – a precious commodity that may be the most important selling point for Pakistan’s popular politicians.

Pressure over Musharraf’s lack of legitimacy, rather than antics to show who is more capable of defiance, could make the general bow to the Pakistani nation’s desire for constitutionalism.