“Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?”
Thus spoke Nawaz Sharif in an interview to Dawn, on the terrorist strike on Mumbai in 2008, by militants from Pakistan. All hell broke loose in Pakistan.
For the rest of the world, it was not a big statement. Had Sharif made a similar statement a year earlier, or before the Panama trial, it would not have created a political crisis. It would not have called for a NSC meeting, with the participants condemning Sharif for his statement. It would not have made a section consider it as a media conspiracy to put Sharif in a corner, or as a larger conspiracy to show Pakistan in a bad light.
But Sharif today has become a poster boy for a hate campaign led by a section within Pakistan. From Imran Khan at one end of the political spectrum, to the Deep State at the other end, this section has finalised a “Go Nawaz Go” programme. His statement has created a new political storm. For what followed was not only bizarre, but a calculated strategy to politically hang Nawaz Sharif and dent the chances of the PML-N.
Didn’t Sharif know that his statement on Mumbai attacks would touch a raw nerve of the Deep State? What were his calculations? Was this a well crafted offensive strategy, trying to frame the Deep State? Or, was it a political self immolation, and in the process pulling the PML-N down further?
The National Security Council Meeting
Following the statement by Sharif in an interview, the Deep State did not miss a single day. It called for an immediate meeting of the National Security Council. Led by the Prime Minister, the NSC met immediately. The statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said, “The meeting reviewed the recent statement in the context of Mumbai attacks, as it appeared in the Daily Dawn of 12th May 2018, and unanimously termed this statement as incorrect and misleading.”
Why did the Deep State find the Sharif statement offensive? Letting the statement go unnoticed would not have created a huge dent on the image. What has made the statement prominent was the immediate meeting of the NSC and the subsequent media statements and projections, almost indirectly hinting Sharif as a traitor.
But, what did Sharif speak, that is so condemnable? For the Deep State, the most important aspect of Sharif’s statement is “should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?” This implicitly means, that the State “allowed” the militants to cross the border and create mayhem in Mumbai. This would also mean, the State in Pakistan was aware of the intentions of the militants who had crossed. Though Sharif did not say anything explicitly that the State sent the militants to target Mumbai, a section presumes that is what Sharif meant.
The second part of Sharif’s statement, “Why can’t we complete the trial?” may not be that important for those who are on an offensive against Sharif now. That deals with the issues of political will, besides evidence in the judicial trial. Even the PML-N should take the blame for adopting a go-slow approach on the trial within Pakistan. Dossiers submitted by India have become a political issue; there was neither a serious attempt nor any sincerity to complete the trial. For it was not a priority even for the PML-N, ever since it took over power. So the criticism against Nawaz that what was he doing when he was the Prime Minister is valid.
What was Sharif’s Calculations? Or, was he duped into making that statement?
A section within the PML-N is trying to shield Nawaz Sharif with the usual political response – that he was misquoted. When it did not work, a section even started talking about a “conspiracy” hatched by a journalist. A new phrase is in the media “Dawn Leaks-2.”
The first Dawn Leak, that create a storm came from Cyril Almeida’s commentary in the Dawn, hinting at a possible divide between the civilian leadership and the military in dealing with the militants. It created a huge furore within Pakistan. There was so much of drama following that commentary. Poor Cyril had to go through a torturous phase as a journalist.
Since Nawaz Sharif’s statement on Mumbai attack was made on an interview with Cyril Almeida on 12 May 2018, a section consider it as a conspiracy led by the journalist, to create another wedge between the civilian leadership and the military.
Those who would have read Cyril’s commentary would understand, it was not the case. The question was not about Mumbai. The observation by Sharif does appear like a well-planned strategy. Nor it looks like a strategic offensive against the Deep State with an objective to bring the latter down.
It looks more like a one of those regular outbursts by Nawaz Sharif.
Nawaz Sharif, the cornered tiger
Why did Sharif make such a statement?
The immediate cause obviously should have been the recent judicial verdict on Sharif’s disqualification. During the last few months, for Nawaz Sharif, it has been a series of tragic verdicts by the judiciary, starting from his original disqualification last year. A series of verdicts have almost made sure that Nawaz Sharif can never contest in elections in the future, nor he can even remain as the leader of his own party.
Sharif considers that the judicial verdicts have been harsh on him. He has a reason to be. Even mainstream media in Pakistan consider that the evidence that the judiciary consider as crucial in pronouncing verdicts on Sharif’s disqualification as questionable.
Second, Sharif also believes, there is a larger conspiracy against him, hatched by the Deep State. Again, he has a reason to be. The Joint Investigation Team that led the investigation on Panama politics, and the conduct of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) have been questionable. The latest in the series of actions by these institutions was the statement by the NAB Chief accusing Nawaz Sharif for laundering funds worth millions into India. Pakistan media have been harsh on the NAB chief for accusing Sharif based on a media source, that have been proved false long back.
The above cannot be a coincidence. Clearly, the Deep State is playing its cards to keep Nawaz Sharif away from the politics. And perhaps, even the PML-N away from the forthcoming elections.
There are enough pointers, based on political developments in Karachi and Quetta, which the Deep State is attempting a political re-engineering before the next elections. The reason is simple: it wants to steal the election before the first vote is even polled.
There is a predominant belief within Pakistan that Imran Khan has become the favourite of the Deep State.
Third, during the recent weeks, there have been a series of defections within PML-N. Legislators from the PML-N have been joining Imran Khan’s PTI. Obviously, there could not be any ideological reasons for the recent defection from the PML-N. It is aimed at the forthcoming elections; a section within the PML-N feels that the PTI is a better bet. Or perhaps, this section is forced to think that way. Obviously by vested interests.
Nawaz Sharif feels cornered. He has been disqualified by the Supreme Court; and the recent verdicts are making the situation worse for him to return to active politics. His party leadership has been taken away from him. His own party members are deserting him, or being forced to. He feels that the next election, where he and PML-N has a good change is being targeted.
After being his initial silence, he has started going on an offensive. A series of statements were made against the judicial verdicts. A conspiracy narrative has been put in place; he and his daughter Maryam Sharif has gone on an offensive against the judiciary.
So, the recent Nawaz Sharif statement on Mumbai attack hinting at the lapse of Pakistani State is a spontaneous outburst, than a calculated offensive. Unfortunately, for him the Deep State was waiting for him to make a mistake. And he did. Sharif seems to have walked into the trap.
But the implications are not for Sharif alone. He would take his party also down, if he were not careful. If the second rung leadership feels that the PML-N is a sinking ship, they will be the first one to jump out, forcing the party to sink further. Shabaz Sharif is trying to do the damage control. Nawaz should Shabaz to do the same and be politically careful. For the vultures are waiting.