Removal of Nawaz Sharif by Musharraf
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Political AnalysisThe Pakistani armed forces took control of the key governmental institutions and the public institutions on Tuesday 12 October 1999, and dismissed the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This was only two hours after Nawaz Sharif had announced the dismissal of Chief of Staff, General Parvaiz Musharraf while he was on an official mission in Sri Lanka. Incidentally, it was only a week before the coup d’état took place that Nawaz Sharif himself had extended General Musharraf’s term as Chief of Staff until 6 October 2001. Musharraf emerged early on the following day with a pre-recorded message to announce to the masses in Pakistan the causes that led to undertaking that measure. He accused the Prime Minister of leading the country to a political, economic and security abyss and of attempting to fragment and politicise the military institution in order to satisfy his hunger for power.
The observers of the situation in Pakistan did not rule out a change in the authority, because the demonstrations organised by the Pakistani opposition parties had been consistent. The opposition, which included 19 parties, had one single agenda, that is to topple the government by exploiting the spirit of resentment felt by the masses in the wake of the Washington Declaration between the American president Bill Clinton and the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on June 1999, pertaining to the withdrawal of the Kashmiri fighters from the Indian side of Kashmir.
Furthermore, the American statement issued on 22 September 1999, which warns against thinking about toppling the elected government, and which calls for the concept of peaceful succession to power to be firmly instilled, gave a clear indication that the days of Nawaz Sharif in power had become numbered.
Pakistan is accustomed to witnessing the armed forces taking a firm grip of the ruling institutions. The army ruled Pakistan for about 25 years since her independence in 1947. This was since the days of General Ayyub Khan (1958-1969). He was then followed by General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan, who was the Chief of Staff at the time and who yielded the reins of power in 1971 after the loss of East Pakistan (Bangladesh). After a short civilian spell, General Zia-ul-Haqq seized power in 1977, executed Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and declared martial law until 1985.
The bloodless coup staged on 12 October 1999 did not occasion any shift in the allegiances of Pakistan from one major power to another, and it seems that the army did not initially plan to directly seize power. They had rather attempted to remove Nawaz Sharif by forcing him to resign and then bring in a civilian government from among a host of technocrats, who would be approved by parliament. When they failed to do so, they declared the dissolution of parliament and dismissed all the rulers of the provinces, thus assuming the reins of powers directly. This scenario is strengthened by the confusion that the leaders of the coup displayed in their political performance and by the delay in issuing the first communiqué. It was also strengthened further by the statement made by the United States’ State Department spokesman, James Rubin, on the first day of the coup, in which he said that the United States was not sure about a coup taking place and that in case this happened, she would hope that democracy is restored as soon as possible.
It was clear from day one that the coup was staged with the blessing of America. The American warning on 22 September 1999 was in fact deemed as a sign that the coup was imminent. If one were to study the American reactions to the coup, he would perceive clearly the extent of the American approval of this change to occur in a country with the size and position of Pakistan, for this is directly linked to the American plans for that particular part of the world.
Carl Anderforth, an aide of the Secretary of State, said, “We deem that the sooner democratic civilian rule is restored the better this would be.” He added, “We cannot abandon Pakistan because it is a significant country. Pakistan is important because stability or the lack of it in Pakistan will have an impact upon the neighbours of Pakistan, the whole region and beyond.” He also stated that the military coup would not deter Washington from dealing with Islamabad.
A senior official in the Pentagon stated, “The military coup does not usually adhere to constitutional measures. This is why we wish for the situation to return to a course that is compatible with their constitution.” The official added that Cohen “will take into consideration the views of the concerned countries of the region, such as Saudi, in order to establish the nature of the talks that might have taken place between them and Pakistan.”
The American president stated, “We do not wish to see the military leaders remove elected governments by force and we have made this clear to the Pakistani leaders.”
The question that springs to mind is: “If Pakistan were under the American influence, why this change of rulers?” In order to answer this question, we ought to perceive the international, regional and Pakistani local conditions that surround this event.
Internationally, Pakistan has been under the American hegemony ever since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assumed the reins of power. He was succeeded by Zia-ul-Haqq. As for Nawaz Sharif, although he belonged to the Muslim League, -founded by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the British agent- , he however took office at a time when the international situation was firmly dominated by the United States and at a time when the international struggle over areas of influence between America and Britain had long ended. Furthermore, Pakistan herself had been under American dominance before he assumed power. Nawaz Sharif’s stance towards the Afghan issue and his embracing of the Taleban movement indicate his collaboration with America.
Hence, the change that took place within the ruling institutions in Pakistan does not pertain at all to the international struggle, nor to the removal of an old international dominion.
As for the regional aspect, the most prominent crisis in the Indian subcontinent is that of Kashmir, which led to the flare-up of two wars between India and Pakistan. The military operations that took place last spring between the Indian forces and the Kashmiri fighters, backed by the Pakistani army, coupled with the Kashmiri fighters’ seizure of Cargill, then the subsequent submission of Nawaz Sharif to the American pressure to pull out of Cargill, which led the Pakistani army to feel humiliated, were the direct causes behind the 12 October military coup.
Despite the fact that India and Pakistan had agreed at the summit held between Nawaz Sharif and the Indian Premier Vajpayee last February in Lahore to settle the Kashmir crisis politically, the complex historical background to this crisis, however, requires the preparation of public opinion in both countries, especially in India, before the political solution to the crisis could be accepted. This solution stipulates the holding of a referendum in the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir, according to the United Nations’ resolutions which were issued back in 1949 and were at the time accepted by India and Pakistan.
Just before the flare-up of the military hostilities between India and Pakistan, the government of Atal Behari Vajpayee collapsed on 18 April 1999 by a majority of one single vote, and when the Congress Party failed to form a new government, general elections were held in India. This led to a further decline in the popularity of the Congress Party whose deputies were reduced from 141 deputies in the parliament of 1998 to 112 deputies. On the other hand the majority of the coalition of 24 parties led by Behari Vajpayee increased.
The main reason for the success of Vajpayee over Gandhi was because his coalition was presented as a victor in the war and capable of vanquishing the enemy. The battle of Cargill washed away the negative effects caused by the feuds between the coalition of Vajpayee during its first term of office.
Therefore, Nawaz Sharif’s submission to the American pressure to withdraw from Cargill has led to the victory of Vajpayee in the Indian general elections and to the crushing defeat of the Congress Party that has historically been loyal to Britain.
It is well known that Atal Behari Vajpayee is a pragmatic politician, who holds a host of radical slogans, such as “India for the Hindus”. It is through him and his party that America succeeded in breaking the dominance of the Congress Party over the political life in India which lasted 45 years. Therefore, America will be able at a future stage to force India and Pakistan to accept the holding of a referendum for the residents of Kashmir which will most probably lead to its independence, as was the case in East Timor.
Hence, the Kashmir crisis and the humiliating retreat from Cargill paved the way for the return of Vajpayee to rule India. This has however destroyed Nawaz Sharif among the Pakistani masses and among the armed forces. It was therefore necessary to bring in a strong substitute, capable of holding negotiations with India pertaining to the issue of Kashmir. This is effectively what Parvaiz Musharraf has promised.
As for the other regional crisis related to Pakistan, it is the issue of Afghanistan. Having backed the Taleban movement through Pakistan and Saudi, which enabled the Taleban to dominate 90% of Afghan lands, America wants to end the status of this movement which is not internationally recognised, in order to allow Afghanistan to regain the status of a politically stable country according to the international laws and conventions.
In order to achieve this, this movement must be internationally challenged through the United Nations and the Security Council. Hence, a host of resolutions were issued, condemning and threatening economic sanctions if Taleban failed to comply with the will of the international community. It is also necessary to pressurise the Taleban movement regionally and a military rule in Pakistan would be ideal for such a task. The pressure would be applied by preventing supplies from reaching Taleban via Pakistan and by preventing the Pakistani parties from supporting and embracing this movement.
As for the domestic conditions in Pakistan which led to the coup, these were reflected in the collapse of the economic situation and widespread corruption amid the governmental institutions. This led the masses in Pakistan to greet the coup with immense relief and prayers of thanks. The political performance of the deposed Prime Minister led the country to the brink of economic collapse. His hunger for ruling the country single-handedly and the appointment of his allies in key executive, judiciary and then military positions has curtailed the facade democracy of the rule in Pakistan.
America has attempted to topple Nawaz Sharif by destroying him in the eyes of the masses through forcing him to withdraw the military forces from Cargill and then inciting the masses and the political parties against him. However, Nawaz Sharif continued to cling to power and this forced the United States to remove him by a military coup, backed by a broad popular support. Furthermore, Nawaz Sharif failed to comply with the resolutions of the IMF, which stipulated tax increases and the privatisation of the public sector in order to repay the loans with the raised capital. The resolutions also stipulated that prices should be floated and that 220 billion rupees should be recuperated from influential personalities who defaulted in their repayments and returned to the banks. Due to his dictatorial attitude, Nawaz Sharif has squandered the state’s funds in buying people’s loyalty, especially in the media circles.
All these practices of Nawaz Sharif have made the government incapable of undertaking the future role expected of Pakistan, be it with regard to the Kashmir and the Afghan issues or in the region of Central and East Asia in general.
Besides, the change in the international situation from a situation of struggle to that of a unilateral American dominion has prompted the United States to review the status of the dilapidated regimes and the unpopular rulers in order to secure her continued unmatched hegemony in the international situation. America endeavours to replace the policy of relying upon individual agents by establishing a host of stable political orders and institutions, which would guarantee her interests without being affected by the demise of those agents. However, before destroying these agents and throwing them in the dustbin of history, she would bleed them dry until the last drop by forcing them to undertake certain actions, which are part of the plans that America realises that people would never accept, such as forcing Nawaz Sharif to withdraw from Cargill and doing the historical enemy of Pakistan a great favour. Similarly, America forced Yusuf Habibie to agree to the separation of East Timor from Indonesia and then she threw him in the place that he deserves, as a traitor of his nation.
The Media Forum of Hizb ut-Tahrir
20 Rajab 1420h
29 October 1999