Pakistani ex-PM was deported:
M Ilyas Khan
deporting former premier Nawaz Sharif
to Saudi Arabia hours after he landed in Pakistan, the
country's military-led government has made a difficult
choice. It has opted for a confrontation with the Supreme
Court instead of allowing Mr Sharif, an unpredictable
rival, to set Pakistan's political agenda ahead of elections
due later this year. But will this choice make life easier
for Gen Pervez Musharraf, the embattled
president of the country? The Supreme Court ruled in July
that Mr Sharif could return to the country, ending a seven-year-long
exile. His deportation to Saudi Arabia on Monday, say
legal experts, breaches that verdict and constitutes contempt
of court. So what was the government thinking when it
decided to exercise this option? Perhaps the answer lies
in the choices Gen Musharraf faces during the next couple
of months Eight years after he toppled Mr Sharif's government
in a dramatic coup, Gen Musharraf has
lost much of his earlier glow.
more than a year, he has been struggling to contain growing
public unrest and an increasingly independent judiciary.
He has been fighting a losing battle against Islamic militants
and ethnic Baloch nationalists in the north and west of
the country. Last March, by suspending the country's chief
justice he inadvertently sparked a countrywide protest
movement by lawyers, civil society groups and the opposition
parties. His moral standing suffered a major setback when
the Supreme Court, in a popular move, reinstated the chief
justice in July. All these troubles have come just two
months before Gen Musharraf's term as
term as the army chief technically expired in August 2003
when he reached retirement age, but a special act of parliament
allowed him to carry on as both president and army chief
until 15 November 2007. He has been exploring different
options to retain both offices for another term, but none
of them are likely to stand up in a court of law. Another
parliamentary exemption may help, and it has been offered
to him by the PPP, the largest party in the country. But
it wants him to give up his army post and settle for reduced
presidential powers. Alternatively, he could order his
intelligence agencies to try to ensure a parliamentary
victory for his PML-Q party loyalists by rigging the elections.
But that could backfire, given the increasing influence
and confidence of the electronic media in Pakistan. Given
these tough choices, many in the government were afraid
that an anti-Musharraf campaign by Mr Sharif would upset
the delicate balancing act Gen Musharraf has to perform
to survive in office.
Mr Sharif decided to return to the country,
one option was to arrest him in connection with some of
the corruption cases still pending against him, and put
him in jail. But his continued presence in the country
might well have caused the political temperature to rise,
especially in the wake of a renewed campaign by the country's
lawyers to stop Gen Musharraf from running for another
term. It might also have tempted the PPP to either toughen
its demands in its negotiations with the government, or
to pull out of the talks altogether, given that PPP leader
Benazir Bhutto has been coming in for
criticism for trying to reach a deal with the military-led
government. It was therefore imperative, from the point
of view of the government, to prevent Mr Sharif from returning
and staying on in the country. And exile in Saudi Arabia
was the best option.
December 2000, Mr Sharif was granted
a presidential pardon in two criminal convictions and
exiled to Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani and Saudi governments
say that as a quid pro quo, he promised not to return
to Pakistan or interfere in its politics for 10 years.
His latest deportation to Saudi Arabia means that he could
be out of the picture for another three years. But observers
believe the move itself is fraught with several risks.
For one, the government risks a backlash from the lawyers
and the opposition groups who view Mr Sharif's deportation
as an illegal move. The Supreme Court, which owes its
newfound freedom to the lawyers' movement for the restoration
of the rule of law, will be under pressure to hold the
government accountable. A petition against Mr Sharif's
deportation has already been filed by his PML-N party.
the Supreme Court rules in favour of Mr Sharif
it will be another blow to the government's credibility.
It would also make it harder for the PPP to continue to
negotiate power sharing with a government that is seen
to have openly violated the basic rights of a popular
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