The information provided by Shaan’s sources on Sunday proved to be accurate: Nawaz Sharif was deported Monday afternoon Pakistan-time back to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Details of Sharif’s removal are murky.
After spending over two hours on the tarmac at Islamabad’s airport, Nawaz Sharif was arrested, charged with money laundering, and shipped to Saudi Arabia. Some reports state that he met with Tariq Aziz, a Musharraf confidante, as well as with senior Saudi officials, while this was later denied by government officials.
Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani alleges that Sharif chose to return to Jiddah on his own accord. Sharif claims he was duped and that he only consented to boarding a second plane after being told it was headed toward Karachi, where he would stand before a court.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz says that Sharif was presented with two options, jail or exile, and chose the latter. PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat confirms that these options were presented, but originally stated that Sharif accepted prison, and contradicted himself later, stating that Sharif chose exile.
One wonders whether Shujaat’s mistake was no mistake at all. His political position is as precarious as Musharraf’s. In any number of days, Musharraf could effectively dump him for Benazir, or reduce him to co-wife. Shujaat would be the expendable, older bride in a polygamous marriage. Understandably, he’s been in contact with Nawaz, who is his plan B. And so his ‘mistake’ could actually be a way to slip out the fact that Nawaz was removed from Pakistan against his will and in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Dawn provides some harsh anti-Nawaz quotes from Shujaat, but this could simply be posturing on his part or sign of his recognition that his Nawaz-card no longer exists.
Statements over the coming days from Nawaz & Shahbaz Sharif, Musharraf’s government, and Saudi officials will help structure a more solid account of Nawaz’s deportation. While these details are unsettled–Dawn’s account is by far the more comprehensive–the motives and future implications behind today’s actions are fairly clear.
One, Pervez Musharraf and his inner circle (Tariq Aziz, ISI chief Ashfaq Kiyani, et al.) have decided that it Nawaz Sharif’s presence in Pakistan right now would be unfeasible. Permitting the deposed prime minister back in the country would catalyze a series of unfortunate events for the Pakistani president. Above all, Sharif’s presence would weaken his negotiating position in final-round talks with Benazir Bhutto and provide further motivation for members of his party, the PML-Q, to defect (in most cases, back) to Nawaz’s PML-N.
PML-Q Pres Chaudhry Shujaat stands to be the biggest loser of a Bhutto-Musharraf deal, and that’s why he’s been in talks with Nawaz and publicly opposing the potential accord. In fact, he recently tried to discredit it, stating that the “goras” (white people — i.e. Americans) are the ones pushing for it. His message: the Americans are choosing our leaders; this deal is being made in Washington and in Washington’s interests–not Pakistan’s.
And so what Musharraf has sought for, at the very least, is a few more days to seal his deal with Benazir, who will announce her date of return to Pakistan on Friday. The imminence of the Bhutto-Musharraf deal pushed Nawaz to return before Benazir. Her negotiations with Musharraf shattered Sharif’s All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM). His only card left was to confront Musharraf directly by flying to the capital, Islamabad, before the conclusion of a power-sharing agreement between his two rivals.
Musharraf’s government attempted to nominally comply with the Supreme Court ruling forbidding the prevention of Sharif’s return to and stay in Pakistan. Their position is that they let him come in the country, stay (albeit for four hours), and then he left on his own accord. Sharif’s supporters have taken their case to the Supreme Court, which will consider the legality of Sharif’s deportation. Should the court rule in Nawaz’s favor, Musharraf can potentially still win. Keeping Nawaz out for this week can give him the necessary window to complete a deal with Benazir and settle things with his current PML-Q allies. The second coming of Nawaz would then be anti-climactic, with the party over and the cake eaten.
In an alternative scenario, the High Court can rule in Nawaz’s favor and Musharraf would then go on an extra-constitutional path to stay in power by declaring emergency rule. Odds of him choosing this path would be radically higher should negotiations with Bhutto collapse for good. Prospects for Pakistan’s stability would also collapse as Musharraf’s imposition of a state of emergency would actually create a state of emergency.
Like Pakistan’s previous military rulers, Musharraf’s ‘corrective movement’ would reverse, leaving the country in a shape worse than before his rise to power. The legacy of Musharraf–once popularly seen as an anti-corruption crusader, a straight-talker, liberal nationalist, and apolitical executive–would then be characterized by the perception of him being an autocratic, American lackey, drunk on power and surrounded by corrupt figures like the Chaudhry Duo.
The prospects for such a scenario are real and induced to a large degree by American support. Vice President Cheney has ensured Musharraf of Washington’s complete backing — and the message was confirmed on Saturday by Richard Boucher. Much like Nixon’s ’tilt toward Pakistan’ policy, Cheney is behind the Bush administration’s ’tilt toward Musharraf’. And so while the State Department admits that Sharif’s deportation “runs contrary to the Supreme Court ruling,” an NSC spokesperson describes it as “an internal matter.” That’s like calling spousal abuse a private, not criminal, matter. Another Bush administration official says that the moves against Sharif are “not necessarily the worst thing that could happen.”
As we stated in a previous post, Washington sees Sharif as a nuisance, if not a threat to its objectives in Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid concurs, writing, “Nawaz Sharif is not part of the American script for the war on terror and the future of Pakistan, written by mandarins in the US State Department. He is considered neither fish nor fowl, too close to the fundamentalist mullahs and too unpredictable.”
Sharif is a business baron-politician motivated not by ideology, but power and profit. His rise to power in the early 90s was through an coalition with Islamists engineered by Pakistan’s intelligence services. And in his second term, he used Islam to maximize his executive power and punish his opponents. But Sharif is no Islamist ideologue. His political usage of Islam was largely the product of its availability and efficacy. His major political foe was a left-leaning female. Now his major opponent is a military dictator — and Sharif, ushered into power by the ISI, is now rallying against the military’s role in politics. Politics is marked by both pandering and philandering. Sharif, like any politician, can only capitalize upon the opportunities availed to him.
And so a better strategy for Washington would be to make it politically advantageous for Sharif to side with the more liberal lot in his country. But instead, it is pushing him and his supporters away toward a harder right, nationalist and Islamist bloc. In doing so, it makes anti-Americanism more entrenched, furthers political polarization, and ruins Pakistan’s best chance to attain consensus-driven structural governance reform. The Bush administration’s Musharraf policy might result in some decisive wins against al-Qaeda in Pakistan-Afghanistan next year, but Pakistan’s polity will continue to fracture, and a new Pandora’s Box will be opened.