Establishment, not Sharif, seeking a deal from Saudi Arabia

January 2, 2018 OPINION/NEWS , Pakistan , POLITICS

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Imad Zafar


Saudi Arabia has once again become the center of news in Pakistan. Both the Sharif brothers. along with their close aides. are busy in meeting the new Crown Prince, King and other members of the royal family. In Pakistan opposition parties and the paid anchors, and journalists of the establishment are already spreading rumors that Sharif is getting a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) from Saudi Arabia, the famous pro-establishment parachute anchor cum journalist Wajahat S Khan having already got his fabricated story published in the world famous Time Magazine.

This has actually created doubt among the masses that Saudi Arabia will again come to Sharif’s rescue as they did during the era of Musharraf. As per Wajahat S Khan and many parachute journalists like him Sharif will get the NRO from Saudi Arabia and will go into exile leaving politics forever, in return he will be given relief in the corruption cases currently in court.

This version of a self created story is being propagated by the pro-establishment TV channels and newspapers. But contrary to the fabricated stories of Wajahat S Khan and his fellow journalists, the situation on the ground is entirely different. Yes Saudi Arabia rescued Sharif after the coup of Musharraf but it was actually the pressure of the then US President Bill Clinton that forced Musharraf to release Sharif and hand him over to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi royal family at that time had a very cordial relation with Sharif. But now the situation is entirely different. Sharif by not accepting Saudi pressure to show lenience towards Musharraf, by taking a progressive and liberal stance on policies and by refusing to send Pakistani troops to Yemen at the request of Saudi Arabia, actually lost the good relations long ago.

If Saudi Arabia was backing him and wanted to get him an NRO, the best time to do so was during the proceedings of the Panama Papers case. But Sharif was not rescued at that time which gave a clear signal that Sharif’s honeymoon with the Saudi establishment was over. So the million dollar question now arising is what is Sharif doing in Saudi Arabia and why he is meeting with the new Crown Prince and King of that country?

To solve this riddle one needs to understand the dynamics and behind the scenes war of power between the establishment and Sharif. It seems that it is actually the establishment that has requested Saudi authorities to intervene as Sharif is continuously damaging them with his narrative. The frequent visits of the COAS to Saudi Arabia and the presence of Raheel Sharif and his good ties with the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arab are all indicating that the establishment in Pakistan has requested the Saudis to use their influence to stop Sharif from participating in anti-establishment politics.

The establishment’s plan to remove Sharif and his daughter from politics did not go well and Sharif, after being disqualified by a dubious judicial judgment, came back very strongly. The establishment was expecting that after his disqualification Sharif would seek an NRO from them and his political party would be diminished as a result of major defections of the parliamentarians. But contrary to that Sharif decided to take on the battle, his GT road march from Islamabad to Lahore creating a narrative against the establishment and judiciary, as a result the pro-establishment voter of the Punjab province turning against the establishment.

The by-election of NA-120 was an example where, with all the propaganda and other tactics, the establishment was not able to defeat Sharif’s wife. In fact Maryam Nawaz, who solely ran the campaign for the by-election, also emerged as the publicly accepted political heir of Nawaz Sharif. This turned the tables in favor of Sharif as he continued to hold public gatherings and meetings and spread his narrative successfully. It actually gifted Sharif the unique opportunity of enjoying both roles of Government and the Opposition at the same time.

Watching Sharif build an anti-establishment narrative the invisible forces played the ugliest of cards by using religious clerics and accusing the government of blasphemy. This resulted in chaos and violence across the country, Sharif ultimately coming under immense pressure. In fact he had to retreat for a while. It was expected that after the Faizabad fiasco and the wrath of religious clerics Sharif’s political party would be diminished. Again it did not happen and Sharif began to spread his narrative much louder.

After the Court verdict of clearing Imran Khan of all allegations even in the presence of Khan’s confessional statement of owning an offshore company, the narrative of Sharif became stronger and publicly started making a mockery of the court’s decisions and alleged that the judiciary was taking sides with the  establishment. During this time, Sharif cleverly used his good ties with the international establishment and successfully persuaded Washington to mount pressure on the establishment. As a result, to ease the pressure from Sharif, Tahir ul Qadri, Mr Khan, and Mr Zardari were brought together again by the invisible forces to stage a sit-in and to threaten Sharif to back off. But Sharif decided not to give up.

Now the situation is that Qadri and Mr Khan are getting ready to stage a mass protest in January to topple the government and are also helped by the religious clerics like Hamid Raza and Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi. But the problem is that even if they stage protests it will not topple the government until there is mass violence and people in large numbers get killed. Amid the backlash from the stronghold of Sharif, it can turn into civil war and then even the establishment will be unable to control it.

The invisible forces therefore contacted the Saudi establishment to pursue Sharif for the reconciliation. It is actually the establishment in Pakistan that needs an NRO, not Sharif. In fact Sharif is quite happy to go into the elections in the same position as he can get sympathy votes and anti-establishment votes by exploiting the weak decision of his disqualification. It is the establishment that is losing credibility in the largest province of Punjab.

It is a good move on the part of the establishment to involve the Saudi royal family to get a deal with Sharif as it will not be easy for Sharif to say no to the Saudi monarchs. But Sharif surely knows the changing reality on the ground and political realities of Pakistan, he signs an NRO and his politics will be finished. The other thing keeping him reluctant to do so will be the history of deals. Bhutto tried to make deals but was eventually hanged. Benazir also signed an NRO with the establishment and she was eliminated by terrorists in mysterious circumstances.

The path of anti-establishment politics has no way back; it is one way traffic. Once you choose the path, the distrust between you and the establishment can never be finished. And who can know it better than Sharif, who was elected thrice by the public and was toppled each time by the establishment. Sharif is way ahead in the battle at this time and if he signs an NRO he will lose the opportunity to seize the moment and win the battle of civilian supremacy. Whatever Sharif decides, history will answer the outcome much more honestly and correctly. For now it seems evident that it is the establishment that is badly seeking an NRO, not Sharif.





Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist based in Lahore. He is a regular Columnist/Commentator in newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policies and media related think tanks.

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