Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lost his chair on Friday after Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified him over corruption charges. While the court’s much awaited decision finished Sharif’s term a year ahead of next general elections, the judgement also carries a potential of throwing Pakistan in a span of political instability. 

Sharif’s dismissal comes at a time when Pakistan was relatively showing a greater inclination and belief towards democratic form of governance. However, alike his predecessors, Sharif couldn’t realize his dream of becoming the first Pakistani prime minister to complete a full five-year term.

Army gets strong 

More than Sharif’s loss, the development also puts a question mark on the fragility of the democratic set-up in a country where army enjoys a larger say in the affairs of governance. 

Many have expressed apprehensions that it was actually Pakistan’s strong army that was behind a series of petitions that led to disqualification of Sharif.

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To explain that, one needs to understand the relationship Sharif had with the army. Not only was the Pakistani army establishment unhappy over Sharif’s friendly overtures towards India, Sharif also invited criticism of army when some of his juniors raised questions on army’s failure to wipe out Islamic terrorist groups operating in Pakistan. 

The controversy arose when a Pakistani newspaper reported about the confrontation in October 2015. Sharif eventually fired his three top officials including a senior official in Pakistan’s Information Ministry. 

To put facts on record, it’s Sharif who has been disqualified, not his party. Which means, Sharif’s party – Pakistan Muslim League (N) – will continue to remain in power. The question that remains is of his replacement and it’s hardly anybody’s guess that Sharif will continue to call the shots from behind irrespective of the new PM’s stature.  

That’s why India should closely see Friday’s development in its neighbouring country as the new Prime Minister might not be enough heavyweight to strike a balance between civilian government and army. In other words, till next general elections in 2018, Pakistan’s foreign policy towards India will be largely directed by its army. 

It will also mark the do-away of civilian government’s growing engagement with the administrative and governance issues plaguing the country and put army at forefront. The increasing influence of army is also likely to be less tolerant of opposition to China Pakistan Economic Corridor project in Balochistan. 

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At a personal level, 67-year-old Sharif’s ouster should worry him less than court’s decision to open cases against Maryam Nawaz (Sharif’s daughter), Captain Muhammad Safdar (Maryam’s husband), Hassan and Hussain Nawaz (Sharif’s sons). This leaves Sharif effectively handicapped of a political heir from his family if the investigations lead to convictions. 

While political pundits and civil society in Pakistan are looking at the situation with apprehension and skepticism, there’s one man who, literally, had the final laugh after Friday’s verdict – Imran Khan. 

The legendary Pakistan cricketer and opposition leader had led a series of protests against Sharif over corruption charges. In the aftermath of Panama Paper leaks, Khan has obsessively chased Sharif through different law suits and petitions to demand investigations against the Prime Minister. The result of his obsession came on Friday. 

But will it help Khan politically? Might be hard as Sharif’s family wields a huge influence in Punjab province in Pakistan – the region which dominates the country politically. To make inroads in Punjab might demand a lot more daunting fieldwork on the part of Khan, however, he would be naive enough to think that Sharif will not use his victim card to retain his vote base. 

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Outside the realm of politics, Pakistan’s citizenry has taken a celebratory view of the Supreme Court’s decision to oust a serving Prime Minister. That a serving Prime Minister and his family have been publicly asked to disclose their sources of incomes is being seen as an achievement of a grinding judiciary against the mighty. 

That’s why Pakistan’s top English daily Dawn looked less caring about the outcome of the verdict on Friday morning. 

“In a country where public officials, elected and unelected, routinely and brazenly live beyond their known and legal sources of income and wealth, the Panama Papers case may be the beginning of a new era of public disclosure and accountability. The Pakistani people deserve a better, more transparent and more accountable leadership in all state institutions,” it read. 

Feature image source: Reuters