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  Sharif & Army-ISI: A sordid saga

Sharif & Army-ISI: A sordid saga

Published : Sep 27, 2016, 12:36 am IST
Updated : Sep 27, 2016, 12:36 am IST

After hearing the Pakistan PM’s ramblings on Kashmir at the UN General Assembly last week, one began to wonder how “sharif” (civil or civilised) Nawaz Sharif could possibly be, with or without officia

K. Srikanth
 K. Srikanth

After hearing the Pakistan PM’s ramblings on Kashmir at the UN General Assembly last week, one began to wonder how “sharif” (civil or civilised) Nawaz Sharif could possibly be, with or without official position and status This when he appeared so edgy and nervous and totally at a loss to utter anything other than “prepared” parrot-like lines scripted by backseat-driving hardliners in his country’s India-obsessed Army-ISI establishment.

Indeed, such was the visible agony of this “ad hoc” chief executive that one couldn’t help but delve deep into the Sharif brand of politics, to examine the evolution of his psyche and worldview as the 21st century beleaguered PM of terrorist-infested Pakistan. One can almost pity the plight of the occupant of the PM’s chair in that country, with his induction, rise, fall and rise again at the whims of the Army-ISI duo.


It’s hardly a secret that every aspect of Mr Sharif’s political journey so far has been guided, aborted or thwarted by the Army and ISI. Having arrived in the post-1971 Pakistan cauldron of chaos and anarchy, the Punjabi leader was propped up by the Army’s fundamentalist chief, Zia-ul Haq, as a counter-civilian politician to “khandani” Benazir Bhutto, the lanky Sindhi lass from Larkana, as the “ghost” of the Bhutto “gharana”.

Mr Sharif was handpicked by Zia-ul Haq’s Punjab governor, a former ISI chief, and also a former chief of staff of 1971 days of Dhaka-based Lt. Gen. A.K.A. Niazi, governor and martial law administrator, Ghulam Jilani Khan. Nawaz Sharif soon became finance minister and later chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab. With him, a new breed of conservative businessman-cum-Muslim League politician had arrived in Pakistan to counter the Bhutto legacy and other potential enemies of Gen. Zia’s Army-ISI caucus.


Understandably, as a puppet, Mr Sharif soon started playing ball with the ISI’s covert games, with the IJI (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad) propped up in the political arena. Aggressively ambitious,

Mr Sharif justified the unethical move as the “need of the hour”, but declined to discuss the clandestine role of the ISI in national politics. He learnt the art of survival through unethical opportunism early: that no one can survive in Pakistani politics without the Army-ISI’s hidden backing.

Learning quick, PM Sharif did nothing for his mentor, the late Zia-ul Haq, except constituting (in 1992) a three-member judicial commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Shafi-ur Rehman to “probe further”, but “not reach a conclusion”. Why Because Mr Sharif knew that none of the succeeding top Army-ISI bosses was interested in knowing the truth about Zia’s death in the 1988 plane crash.


Zia’s departure from the Army and Pakistani politics was, to many, “good riddance” as for too long he had blocked the careers and promotions of several Army officers by staying on as Army Chief for over 12 years (1976-1988). Mr Sharif, naturally, bowed before the Army to survive as no one in the military wanted to upset the status quo.

It would be in order to reiterate that Mr Sharif would never have become Prime Minister in 1990 without Army-ISI help. Yet he consistently proved the old adage of “bite the hand that feeds”. It’s all on record. It was “Indian origin” Pakistan Army Chief Mirza Aslam Beg (hailing from eastern UP) and the ISI who resorted to “criminal distribution of people’s money for political purposes” and gave Mr Sharif “PRs 3.5 million” for the 1990 election.


Mr Sharif won, but disagreed on virtually everything with the Army Chief. There also was Hamid Gul (ISI’s DG), who had close ties with Mr Sharif. Gen. Gul helped to install Mr Sharif as IJI head and supported him with ISI funds and resources, yet Mr Sharif also showed Gen. Gul the art of “bite the hand that feeds”.

The list of Mr Sharif’s questionable actions is endless. But perhaps the most sensational was the attempt to “bribe” his own Army Chief, Asif Nawaz, who took over from Mirza Aslam Beg, in August 1991 with a BMW car. “This car does not befit you”, Mr Sharif reportedly told the general in Punjabi, their shared language, presenting the BMW’s keys to him with the words: “This is the car that you deserve”. The unexpectedly polite, yet firm, reply by the Army Chief left Mr Sharif stunned: “Thank you, Sir. I am very happy with what I have.” Though Gen. Asif soon died mysteriously, in harness, Mr Sharif, as Prime Minister, had exposed the unscrupulous, dishonest and the ugly side of his personality.


It’s thus little wonder that successive Pakistani Army Chiefs clashed with the inherently-dishonest Mr Sharif whenever he became Prime Minister. The icing on the cake was, however, delivered by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in his October 12, 1999 coup, that proved the unsaid and unspoken reality of Pakistan: that both the Army and the office of Prime Minister are not only unstable, but both are treacherous entities that have led Pakistan down the garden path.

Both are adept in stabbing each other’s back and indulging in open and brazen corruption, nepotism and gross injustice. Understandably, therefore, if the Army Chief and Prime Minister repeatedly go on committing such crimes with their own people, should India, as a foreign country, be surprised at being betrayed or being constantly attacked by state-sponsored terrorists and fundamentalists resorting to jihad against India in its various manifestations


I am actually surprised that successive Indian governments have been so gullible, and have sought help from powers like the United States or even Russia to control the congenital aggressive psyche and posture of the Pakistani state against a perceived “weak” India. Today, of course, PM Sharif is not at war with Gen. Raheel Sharif, his Army Chief, as both Punjabis have decided to have a “working” equation; at least for show, as the November 27 deadline for the appointment of a new Army Chief nears. But as

Mr Sharif faces major corruption allegations originating from the Bahamas, he has become desperate and ever ready to toe the line and act like “His Master’s Voice” for the Army-ISI bosses. He certainly appears today as a shadow of his complacent, conspiratorial and arrogant past.


Who better than Gen. Musharraf (though no paragon of virtue himself) for an apt description of the mind of PM Sharif “Paranoia had made Sharif so secretive... (He) hoped to remove me while I was out of country (in Sri Lanka).” What does it take for a shaky and nervous Mr Sharif to be PM, eternally under the threat of being overthrown by an Army that is purportedly subordinate to him Internal insecurity leads to external absurdity. That is the reality of Pakistan, and of the mind of its Prime Minister.

The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College. The views expressed here are personal.