How will PTI’s Islamabad lockdown impact Nawaz Sharif?


A backgrounder by Wali Zahid

The month of October in 1999 and in 2016 are no different for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Largely.

In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf, then just-terminated army chief and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, plotted a coup, removed Sharif in a humiliating manner and became Chief Executive of the country.

In 2016, 30 October (or revised 2 November) is being considered a day when Sharif is likely to face a similar challenge if not humiliation, but in a different facade.

It may not be a coup this time. It could be a Minus-One Formula finally bearing fruit for the army: demanding Sharif’s resignation through Islamabad lockdown by Imran Khan’s PTI et al on the ruse of Panama scandal and the resultant law and order situation, possibly bloodied if Sharif resisted, or bloodless if he gave in peacefully.

The 28 October Defence of Pakistan Council rally in Islamabad is likely to have a key role in achieving the outcome of Minus-One.

Some early indications:

Imran Khan’s second assault | Zahid Hussain | Dawn

Turbulence in Pakistan: the same old story of Sharif vs. Estabishment | Raza Rumi

Storm in a teacup? | Abbas Nasir | Dawn

Too clever by half | Najam Sethi | The Friday Times

The 2014 PTI dharna – then against alleged electoral rigging – did not succeed.

In my piece on Pakistan of future, I wrote this on 14 August 2014 for The News:

Goldman Sachs forecasts get yearly revisions and our ranking may keep on moving down a point or two if our governments fail in doing their job, or the forces of disruption become too huge to manage (as I write this on 6 August, I am anxious about the 14th August Azadi march by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its intended consequences).

Sharif was originally identified and groomed by army by then Governor Lt-General Ghulam Gilani at the behest of President General Zia as a rising urban force against feudals.

Sharif first became the Finance Minister in Punjab in 1981 and then the Chief Minister of Punjab in 1985.

See also: Did General Ziaul Haq know his end was near?

Sharif and army’s paths separated when after the 1990 electoral win by IJI led by Sharif, then army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan wanted to make Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi the Prime Minister, and not Sharif, which was the original promise.

The differences grew further when the army-backed President Ghulam Ishaq Khan appointed General Abdul Waheed Kakar as chief of army staff in 1993 against Sharif’s will. General Kakar later forced the resignations of both President Khan and PM Sharif.

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Since then, Sharif has been out of army’s favour, and a target of Minus-One. Sharif’s lost distrust on army has never been repaired.

Sharif’s first government (1990-1993) was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993.

And it’s nothing but amazement at God’s doing that Sharif returned to power second time after a landslide electoral win in 1997 and then in 2013 (after being exiled and humiliated by General Musharraf), becoming a third-time Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Only after a year in office after Sharif refused to share space with army, in 2014, PTI’s Imran Khan and Awami Tehreek’s Dr Tahirul Qadri, a fiery cleric once imam at the Sharif mosque and now based in Canada, were launched in Islamabad to dislodge Sharif.

Imran Khan would often refer to third umpire (referece to army chief) and his finger to be lifted, but army and ISI deny they were behind dharna.

During the 2014 dharna, there did come a moment when the Sharif government could have been sent home when just at that very moment, PTI’s then President Javed Hashmi leaked the inside story of dharna and London Plan and the removal NS mission was aborted.

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Some Octobers in Nawaz Sharif’s life:

October 1994: Sharif leads labour and industrial strikes throughout country against Bhutto leading to Bhutto’s departure two Octobers later

October 1996: Benazir Bhutto’s second government removed by President Farooq Leghari paving the way for Sharif’s return

October 1998: Sharif forces the army chief General Jehangir Karamat to resign

October 1998: Sharif promotes Lt-General Pervez Musharraf and appoints him army chief, later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, paving the way for Musharraf to wage Kargill War without notifying Sharif and overthrow Sharif an October later.

12 October 1999: Sharif removes army chief General Pervez Musharraf for Kargil fiasco, and appoint General Ziauddin Butt as army chief.

12 October 1999: Just-terminated General Pervez Musharraf removes Sharif government in a coup.

October 2002: Imran Khan (born 5 October) elected MNA from Mianwali.

October 2011: Imran Khan gets a launch in Lahore with 100,000 supporters ahead of 2013 general elections

October 2013: Sharif visits Washington DC and meets US President Barack Obama.

30 October 2016 (2 November): Unknown

Sharif, however, had to leave significant space – mostly commercial, national security and foreign policy (particularly India and Afghanistan) – to army. Since then, his government has been off balance with the army.

A new bone of contention is CPEC. Army wants control of $46 billion CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) as well.

There were indications that Sharif will get some of this lost space back after General Raheel Sharif retires on 29 November and a new army chief of Nawaz’s liking is appointed.

But the powers that be may have other plans, hence the hurried 30 October (or 2 November) Islamabad lockdown.

All hell broke loose with Dawn oped writer Cyril Almeida breaking that story on 6 October following a temporary travel ban on him, which made global headlines.

Journalist Ahmad Noorani tweets about PTI lockdown:

As a trends-picker and futurist, most of the time, I have been able to forecast the outcomes but 2 November has so many variables and without authentic information from any side, it’s difficult to make a call.

All sides have kept their cards close to their chest in this high-stakes game.

Journalist Syed Talat Hussain tweets on 23 October on the possibility of military intervention during lockdown.

However, during the 2014 dharna, I could:


Flashback: Just after General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 12 October 1999, a Pakistani magazine, Pakistan Calling, published a cover story – Halt! About Turn.

For the cover story, they interviewed several overseas Pakistanis. At that time, I was head of marketing communications at Muslim Aid, UK’s relief and development charity, in their North London head office.

Pakistan Calling was a magazine published by the organisation that is now called PILDAT, based in Islamabad. You may have heard of PILDAT surveys on Pakistan’s governance performance.

The cover story was quite a damning account of Sharif’s tenure and like most in-country Pakistanis reportedly ‘distributing sweets’ on his removal, overseas Pakistanis expressed their happiness that Musharraf took over.

Then there was this one lone voice: of me, saying this should not have happened. Have a look at top image.

October-November issue of Pakistan Calling. You can download the full article (2MB), below:


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