They have an old saying in America: the postman always rings twice. That’s putting a positive spin on opportunity coming twice to one’s door. We’re more sardonic in South Asia about our social mores. So, an old adage has it that adversity never comes alone. Ask Pakistan’s threetime- lucky PM Nawaz Sharif about this dictum’s veracity and he’d say it couldn’t be truer.
Adversity, in its latest visitation, has mounted a threepronged attack against his citadel of power. For seven months Nawaz, with his family and clan, has been besieged by his political opponents’ incessant bombardment at his rampart on the issue of Panama Leaks, in which his sons — both ensconced in UK for years — and daughter have been directly named.
Up until lately, Nawaz had successfully parried their howls for an open probe of allegations of massive siphoning of black money out of Pakistan by his progeny on one excuse or another. His rivals, led by a charismatic Imran Khan, former cricket legend, accused him of dragging his foot and dallying but that didn’t dent his armour. However, Imran has now gone to the Pakistan Supreme Court and the apex court has not only admitted his petition but also given a two-week deadline for Nawaz to submit his reply.
As if that wasn’t sufficiently embarrassing to a PM pilloried, by all and sundry, for looting the country and draining resources abroad, the country’s Chief Justice has castigated the ruling coterie for their regal style of governance which, in his words, is akin to monarchical rule.
On top of it, Imran refuses to be content with just a legal challenge to a beleaguered Nawaz. He has decided that justice against a corrupt mafia may be more quickly accomplished by taking his case to the people’s court. November 2 is his proclaimed D-Day to administer his popular coup de grace against Nawaz. His political network has drawn up plans to paralyse the government by shutting down its seat of power in Islamabad.
Two years ago, Imran had staged a similar massive sit-in in Islamabad which dragged on for 126 days and caused severe disruption. But it was suddenly called off in the wake of the terrorist attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar that saw 150 children massacred. This time around, Imran sounds more jingoistic and says the new sit-in will have Nawaz clean bowled. Imran’s votaries claim the case against Nawaz’ corruption and loot is water-tight in both courts, legal and public, and the robber-baron will be hoist on the Panama Leaks’ petard. However, Imran’s adversaries- and there are legions of them in the Nawaz camp-argue that he’s sounding robust and over-confident of his success because the powerful military establishment has tacitly endorsed his campaign to unseat Nawaz and haul him up on corruption charges.
The allegation of Imran being hand-in-glove with the generals may or may not be true. Some privy to both the camps — Imran’s and of the brass — contend that there is no love lost between them and the generals aren’t, exactly, enthused by the mercurial and maverick Imran. Be that as it may, Nawaz, off his own bat, seems to have wittingly or unwittingly alienated the power brokers in the military establishment in an episode that has all the ingredients of a suspense thriller. In the wake of the ongoing tense battle of nerves with India, Pakistan’s National Security Council-the apex body of civilians and generals charged with sensitive issues of national security-met in a closed-door session in Islamabad on October 6.
The following day, Dawn, Pakistan’s premier English daily, broke news, in a front page story, of a serious rift between NSC’s civilian and military components. The story claimed the civilians warning the brass that their overzealous and selective role in the fight against terrorism was isolating Pakistan, internationally. The NSC Leak, as it has been dubbed by the media, has quickly mushroomed into a national scandal of far more serious portents than Panama Leaks.
The question begging an answer all around — and most vociferously in the rambunctious media — is who leaked the gist of what had transpired in the closed-door session of the apex body charged with national security? Unlike the media, the military establishment may not be making headlines with the same question, but its studied silence looks more ominous and unsettling to the political barons who were part of the incamera session. Common sense says the brass wouldn’t leak a story that has them on the defensive.
Who else, but the civilians present at the conclave, could have had the bravado to undertake such a brazen act and leak to a select newspaper the story that makes a villain of the military brass to the whole world? Nawaz’ Interior Minister put up a bold face on camera to boast that his investigation would unearth the culprit, or culprits, within three days. He insisted to keep the Dawn reporter who’d authored the ‘leak’ on Exit Control List (ECL). However, the plot thickened when the Minister ate his own words and removed the impugned journalist’s name from ECL 12 hours later. Nawaz is tying himself into knots by failing to come clean on the cloak-and-dagger story in more than two weeks.
His failure to convince his political adversaries-and his nemeses in the military establishment, is threatening to implicate all the civilians, including him, in what many describe as the most embarrassing and potentially lethal ‘leak’ in Pakistan’s history. What puts Nawaz on the back-foot even more is the poor timing of the scandal: it has come while relations with India are at their nadir. Nawaz couldn’t be on a weaker wicket against powerful opponents.