By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – At a time when his country is locked in deepening diplomatic tensions with longtime rival India, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is also facing a rough road on the home front.
The embattled Sharif, serving his third term as premier, is grappling with a string of threats to his government, ranging from an opposition-planned “siege” of the capital Islamabad to a corruption scandal involving his family.
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), the country’s second-largest opposition party, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, plans to “besiege” Islamabad starting on Oct. 30 if Sharif fails to agree to an “independent” inquiry into corruption allegations against him emerging from whistleblower Panama Papers leaks earlier this year.
“We will jam the capital, and will stay there until Nawaz Sharif resigns or presents himself for accountability,” Khan – whose party secured over 8 million votes, second only to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML), in 2013 – announced earlier this week.
In 2014 Khan and his allies laid a similar four-month siege to parliament over alleged electoral fraud in the 2013 general elections that brought Sharif to power. The siege was lifted amid reported intervention of army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif following a deadly gun-and-bomb attack on an army-run school in Peshawar that killed over 140 people, mostly students, in December 2014.
Days before the PTI’s planned siege, on Oct. 20 the country’s Supreme Court is set to hear a number of petitions by opposition parties – mainly the PTI and Jamat-e-Islami – and lawyers seeking disqualification of Sharif and his family members for their alleged involvement in money-laundering.
Sharif has been under tremendous pressure from the opposition and the media after the Panama Papers revealed that his two sons Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz and daughter Mariyam Nawaz owned offshore companies.
Sharif, however, claims that all the transactions made by his family members were above-board and in accordance with the law.
Earlier this year, Sharif’s eldest son Hussain Nawaz admitted in a television interview that his family owned offshore companies and London flats. He insisted that the transaction were all legal but refused to make his assets public, claiming that such a move might harm his business interests.
-‘False and fabricated’ story
Making things chillier still, the country’s powerful army appears to be extremely unhappy with the government over a news item published earlier this week in local English daily Dawn suggesting that it has acted weakly against militants.
The army, in a rare reaction, declared the story a “breach of national security” at a hurriedly called meeting of the top commanders on Friday, and expressed concern over the “feeding” of a “false and fabricated” story to the reporter – a thinly veiled reference to civilian government officials believed to have passed on the story to Dawn’s reporter.
A statement from the army’s media wing, Inter Services Public Relations, said, “The Corps Commanders conference has expressed serious concern over the feeding of a false and fabricated story on an important security meeting at the Prime Minister’s House and view it as breach of national security”.
Immediately initiating an inquiry, the government had earlier barred the reporter, Cyril Almeida, but lifted the ban within 48 hours amid assurances from the newspaper owners association that he would fully cooperate with the investigators.
Sharif’s previous two terms as prime minister had ended prematurely under pressure from the Pakistani military. Observers say, however, that in Sharif’s current tenure things have gone largely in his favor due to internal and regional circumstances despite blunders by his government.
“The army is apparently annoyed by this development [the story], and it considers the government or some officials of the government responsible for that,” Dr. Jabbar Khan, an Islamabad-based political and economic analyst, told Anadolu Agency.
“He has gotten politically weak in recent years, and will be further weakened in the wake of the PTI’s planned siege. But due to ongoing tensions with India, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC] project, and the Afghanistan situation, the army, in my opinion, will not support his unconstitutional ouster,” Khan added, while cautioning that Sharif will have to pay the price for his political blunders in the next elections, set for 2018.
Sharif will appoint the new army chief early next month, as Gen. Sharif – credited with improving law and order in the country by launching a full-scale military onslaught on militants in restive tribal areas – will retire by the end of November.