Nawaz Sharif’s 26/11 admission: PML-N leader trying to be a statesman ahead of key election?
Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif recently conceded during an exclusive interview to Pakistan's leading daily Dawn that Pakistan allowed militants to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai, the financial capital of Mumbai. He also asked the reason behind Pakistan's failure to complete the trial of 26/11 attacks during his interview and said it was "unacceptable".
For the Indian establishment, to see this coming from a former Pakistani premier who was ousted in July 2017 after being held disqualified by the country's Supreme Court for hiding undecided salary he received from his son's company in the UAE. He was also disqualified by the apex court as the head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) this February.
For Sharif, who could not complete even one of his three terms as Pakistan's premier since the 1990s, and his party, things are looking ominous at the moment while the next parliamentary elections in Pakistan are not far.
PML-N going through a tough phase
The ruling PML-N has seen besides the ouster of Sharif, an ouster of its foreign minister, flee of its finance minister and an assassination attempt on its interior or home minister. Sharif, 68, could see another unfavourable verdict coming out against him in June sending him to 14 years in jail.
Dynastic power struggle might not be too far
Sharif is also facing concerns at home for his wife Kulsoom is undergoing cancer treatment while the known dynastic politics of Pakistan could see his daughter Maryam losing out to Hamza, the son of his brother Shehbaz Sharif who stands as the party's next big leader in the absence of the former PM.
In August last year, Dawn online reported that many PML-N supporters were of the belief that Nawaz denied Shehbaz, the chief minister of Punjab, a chance to succeed him as the premier of Pakistan and also the latter's son Hamza to lead Punjab province. This makes the power struggle in the Sharif family more apparent and there will be more of it in case Nawaz is completely ousted from the scene.
Army, judiciary, Imran Khan - too many enemies for PML-N
These apart, the PML-N also has serious confrontations with the army, judiciary as well as the Opposition led by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf or PTI.
Sharif hence looked to foreign policy to prove his worth
To fight all the odds and to salvage some pride before an impending uncertainty, Sharif has chosen to take the statesman's path. According to the Dawn, the former prime minister took the conversation towards issues like foreign policy and national security when asked about the reasons that he felt were responsible for his ouster.
He brought in the reference of Afghanistan who he said was given more acceptance than Pakistan despite the latter making sacrifices. He then raised the issue of Pakistan sending terrorists to Mumbai and its inability to finish the trial. He even said that countries like Russia and China also pointed out to Pakistan its struggle on such issues.
A Pak leader puts himself on same page with India before an election
Sharif was clearly trying to take the position of a statesman to make a last-ditch effort to beat his and his party's internal enemies although to see a Pakistani politician trying to put himself on the same page with arch-rivals India to reap some mileage - moral or political is quite unique. But that is how the invisible pressure of democracy works.
Sharif's expressions prove that Pakistan's monolithic political culture has started seeing a change, even only on the surface, and that could be the biggest outcome of its uninterrupted civilian rule over the last one decade.
The same Sharif had approved 1993 Mumbai blasts, said a Pak judge
This is the same Sharif who had given approval for the serial blasts in Mumbai in 1993, former Indian diplomat Rajiv Dogra who was once posted in Karachi wrote in his book 'Where Borders Bleed: An Insider's Account of Indo-Pak Relations'.
According to him, an eminent former judge of the Pakistani Supreme Court had told him in 1994 that Sharif not only gave approval for the Mumbai blasts but also had full knowledge of the Pakistani Army-backed Kargil intrusion while meeting with former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1999. The former judge, who in turn learned about Sharif approving the Mumbai blasts from a sitting judge "seemed to have been morally outraged" by the events.
Today, it is the same Sharif who seems to be morally outraged and that's because his political points are hard to come by - something which looked improbable even 12 months ago.
Sharif's frustration over failure to deal with army, judiciary showing
Sharif is also frustrated over the fact that despite getting power thrice which not many politicians in his country get, he has not been able to cut his internal enemies to size and they have succeeded to toy with him as a leader. He said the country can't be run if there are two or three parallel governments but only one which is constitutionally authorised. His targets were clearly the military, which ousted him in directly in 1999 and the judiciary, which threw him out in 2017.
Sharif's third innings as the prime minister also saw his relations with the military taking a nosedive, especially since late 2016 when he pointed out to the strong military to act against the home-grown militants or face isolation internationally.
Pakistan has been at the receiving end as terrorists have not spared the country and the Sharif government's response against them has not been too strong. But given the fact that Pakistan has started experiencing some sort of continuity in its elected government's rule, Sharif gathered the courage to tell the military what the ailment was but then, it is yet some distance to cover before the country's civilian rulers get a complete control over its military generals.
The army in Pakistan might not express an open desire to recapture the reins of power as that would push it into a dark corner with loads of political and economic pressure to deal with but at the same time, it is still not an actor which has given up its interest in the nation's statecraft.
Jaffrelot's take on army-civilian equation in Pakistan
Christophe Jaffrelot, an eminent scholar on Pakistan politics, believes that the 2018 election will be key to understand which way the country is heading.
Jaffrelot, who teaches international relations in Paris, said during his visit to a literary event in Jaipur in January this year: "Pakistan is still the same paradox... But it is reaching its limit. There are civilians in the government, there is a facade of democracy, but military is still in the driving seat," IANS reported.
Jaffrelot, who has written several books on India and Pakistan, discussed about the paradox of Pakistan's politics in his 2015 book 'The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience' saying military rule interspersed with the civilian till the time the latter tried to end the army' hold was the familiar paradox of the country till it changed in the 21st century.
Now, according to Jaffrelot, another dynamic has evolved whereby the politicians acknowledged not being in full control while the military continued to undermine them without toppling them.
Sharif thus knows that there is a small window for his party, which still has a grip in terms of organisation, to slide through in the next election to attempt a return to power. He therefore took the route of taking a moral standpoint which he believes would set him apart from the rest and make the voters more sympathetic towards his inner voice.
But the fact remains that Pakistan is still a fledgling democracy where an iron fist still rules the roost.