Special report: Going nuclear 1990-1993/1997-1999

Nov 20, 2017| Courtesy by : www.dawn.com

Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions offered Sharif a mixed bag of joy and disappointment.

A young Nawaz Sharif – with a considerably lighter mop of hair on is head – came to power for the first – but certainly not the last – time in November 1990 after a massive showing in rallies leading up to the elections. He waved and waved to the crowds across the land and apparently owed his elevation to popular public sentiment in his favour. Regardless of the fact that the victory of the right-wing Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) remains politically tainted to date, it was the time when Nawaz Sharif – and his family – entered big time politics.

Living out the legacy of his mentor

By I.A. Rehman

MIAN Nawaz Sharif became prime minister of the country twice within two decades of the death of General Ziaul Haq, his principal benefactor, and his two terms were like a sequel of the general’s regime. His priorities were theocratisation of the polity, promotion of free enterprise, fulfilment of nuclear ambitions, and assertion of civilian authorities’ rights through centralisation of power in himself. While doing the last part, he clashed with the establishment and lost power in the first term, and both authority and freedom in the second one.

For obvious reasons the business community’s interest came first with Nawaz Sharif. Several steps were taken under the label of economic reform, including a tax holiday for some, abolition of restrictions on bringing foreign exchange into the country or taking it out and on maintaining foreign currency accounts, and no questions asked. Privatisation of not only nationalised units but also other enterprises, such as PIA and WAPDA, was undertaken with extraordinary zeal. Despite allegations of irregularities these steps increased the prime minister’s popularity in the circles that mattered.

Soon after assuming power in both terms, Nawaz Sharif displayed his love for special courts. In the first term, Article 212 B was added to the Constitution through the 12th Amendment. The provision was not much different from Article 212A that Zia had crafted in 1979 for setting up military courts and which was dropped in 1985. These special courts were not subject to high courts and the Supreme Court and were assailed for being a parallel judicial system.

In the second term the special courts were rejected by the Supreme Court 10 months after their formation and this became one of the issues in the skirmishes between the prime minister and the chief justice. However, an already brutalised public was happy. Nawaz Sharif also gained in popularity with the masses by using force rather indiscriminately to curb lawlessness in Karachi, and more goodwill when he decided to punish the MQM after Hakim Saeed’s murder by dropping it from the coalition and ordering a crackdown in Karachi.

Contrary to what the photograph might depict, Nawaz Sharif has hardly ever been a silent, contemplative spectator on the national political scene. SHORTLY before being elected prime minister in November 1990, Nawaz entered into coalition, among others, with the Mohajir Qaumi Movement in urban Sindh. He is seen here at a rally in Karachi with MQM leader Altaf Hussain (left). Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who was heading the Combined Opposition Party (COP) in the National Assembly and was soon to become the caretaker prime minister, is on the extreme right next to Syeda Abida Hussain. | Photo: Hasan Bozai.
Contrary to what the photograph might depict, Nawaz Sharif has hardly ever been a silent, contemplative spectator on the national political scene. SHORTLY before being elected prime minister in November 1990, Nawaz entered into coalition, among others, with the Mohajir Qaumi Movement in urban Sindh. He is seen here at a rally in Karachi with MQM leader Altaf Hussain (left). Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who was heading the Combined Opposition Party (COP) in the National Assembly and was soon to become the caretaker prime minister, is on the extreme right next to Syeda Abida Hussain. | Photo: Hasan Bozai.

He also persisted in his campaign against Benazir Bhutto in the first term in the form of president’s references, and against her husband Asif Ali Zardari in the second term through the Ehtesab Cell that he had created to the chagrin of the chief ehtesab commissioner by amending the Ehtesab Act.

Soon after becoming prime minister in 1990, Nawaz Sharif revived Ziaul Haq’s so-called Islamisation drive with a Shariat Enforcement Act, but a major effort in this direction was made in his second term in the shape of the 15th Amendment that had two objectives. First, it sought to add Article 2B to the Constitution declaring Quran and Sunnah to be the supreme law, and, secondly, it proposed that the Constitution could be amended by a simple majority of members present in either house or at a joint session of parliament.

Countrywide protests forced the government to abandon the second part of the bill and the National Assembly only adopted the proposal to add Article 2B to the basic law. It read: “The federal government shall be under an obligation to take all steps to enforce the Shariah, to enforce Salat, to administer Zakat, to promote amr bil ma’aroof and nahi unil munkar (to prescribe what is right and to forbid what is wrong), to eradicate corruption at all levels, and to provide substantial socioeconomic justice in accordance with the principles of Islam as laid down in the Quran and Sunnah.”

The bill resembled the Zia sponsored 9th Amendment that was adopted by the National Assembly in 1986, but it was not sent to the Senate and lapsed. Similarly, the 15th Amendment was withheld from the Senate as the government was not sure of its majority there and it too lapsed. The text of the 9th and the 15th Amendments is not found in our statute books. Thus ended Nawaz Sharif’s bid to push Zia’s Islamisation further and to change the Constitution through a single enactment.

During his second term, several issues – Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, policy towards India, and the army chief’s desire to steal a military victory over India – got intertwined and offered Nawaz Sharif a mixed bag of joy and disappointment.

He met Indian premier Inder Kumar Gujral during the SAARC summit and they agreed to be friends. Shortly thereafter, Attal Bihari Vajpayee became the prime minister of India. Among the first things the BJP government did was to carry out five nuclear tests in May 1998 that brought Nawaz Sharif under intense pressure from the people and the military to achieve parity with India in terms of nuclear capability.

Ignoring the strong advice of the country’s main economic patrons and partners, he allowed five nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, and a sixth, two days later. This made the prime minister highly popular with the military and the people, but the steps accompanying the blasts, especially freezing of foreign currency accounts that the judiciary eventually overruled, did not.

Vajpayee met Nawaz Sharif in New York and proposed the start of a friendship bus service between India and Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, with his characteristic impulsiveness, promptly agreed. Vajpayee duly arrived in Lahore by bus in February 1999 and the event did cause a thaw in India Pakistan relations, but it did not yield Nawaz Sharif the political dividend he had expected because the people had not been prepared for the policy shift and the army had not been taken on board.

Then almost from nowhere Kargil happened. The prime minister feigned ignorance of the operation to capture a few Kargil peaks while the army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, maintained that everything had been cleared by his civilian boss.

As was expected, India threw its air force and heavy guns into the battle and Islamabad got worried. Nawaz Sharif literally forced US president Bill Clinton to see him on July 4, 1999, the American National Day, and agreed to pull back his troops. The people, fed on stories that Pakistan always defeated India in armed encounters, were unhappy. Worse, the army top brass put down Nawaz Sharif as a person they could never trust, a perception that was going to cause Nawaz Sharif’s downfall more than once.

Nawaz Sharif’s desire to completely control the government brought him into conflict early in his first term with president Ghulam Ishaq who also considered himself a true inheritor of Ziaul Haq’s mantle.

Among other things, he denied the premier any say in the selection of judges and appointed General Abdul Waheed Kakar as the army chief, following the sudden death of Gen. Asif Nawaz, without informing the prime minister. In April 1993, Nawaz Sharif denounced the president in a TV address and the next day the president dissolved the National Assembly and sent him packing.

The Supreme Court restored Nawaz Sharif in the saddle only 37 days later. His failure to oust the then Punjab chief minister, Manzoor Wattooo, who was openly supported by the president, re-ignited the feud with Ghulam Ishaq. Eventually, the army chief intervened and both vacated their offices in July 1993.

General Kakar, the gentleman general who coveted neither power nor glory for himself, demonstrated that even if the army had to intervene in a political crisis, imposition of military rule was not the only solution, a precedent yet to be emulated.

Between his first and second tenures at the helm during the politically troubled 1990s, Nawaz Sharif kept himself busy with public appearances across the land. He is seen here alongside Khan Abdul Wali Khan of the Awami National Party at a Rawalpindi rally in December 1994.
Between his first and second tenures at the helm during the politically troubled 1990s, Nawaz Sharif kept himself busy with public appearances across the land. He is seen here alongside Khan Abdul Wali Khan of the Awami National Party at a Rawalpindi rally in December 1994.

When Nawaz Sharif regained power in February 1997, the circumstances were wholly in his favour. He had two-thirds majority in the National and Punjab assemblies and his party was able to form coalition governments in Sindh and the NWFP (since renamed KP). Armed with a heavy mandate, he resumed his drive to eliminate the rival centres of power.

No trouble was expected from president Farooq Leghari with whom Nawaz Sharif was reported to have struck a deal before the PPP government was sacked and who had allegedly facilitated the Sharif brothers’ election in the 1997 elections by amending the ineligibility laws related to loan defaulters. The president was paid off with a Senate ticket for a relative, appointment of a friend as Punjab governor, and obliging Zulfikar Khosa to make up with Leghari.

Having done all that, Nawaz Sharif calmly told a befuddled Leghari of his decision to remove Article 58-2(B) from the Constitution that was to deprive him of the power to sack a government. The formality was completed the next day with the adoption of the 13th Amendment, a step hailed by all democrats.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s relations with chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah deteriorated. While sparring over the selection of five judges for the Supreme Court, both resorted to bizarre tactics; the PM reduced the Supreme Court strength from 17 judges to 12, hoping to remove the need for new appointments, and the chief justice suspended a constitutional amendment. Eventually, the premier gave in. But the suspension of the 14th Amendment on legislators’ defection, which gave the party bosses the last word, annoyed the prime minister and he declared that while he had ended ‘lotacracy’ the Supreme Court had restored it.

Deposed for the second time, Nawaz Sharif, with his brother Shahbaz Sharif, is seen at the entrance of Anti-terrorism Court No 1 in Karachi in December 1999 when he was tried for ‘kidnapping, attempted murder, hijacking and terrorism’. It was the trial that led first to his conviction and a life sentence, and subsequently to the infamous agreement under which the Sharif family remained exiled in Saudi Arabia for about a decade.
Deposed for the second time, Nawaz Sharif, with his brother Shahbaz Sharif, is seen at the entrance of Anti-terrorism Court No 1 in Karachi in December 1999 when he was tried for ‘kidnapping, attempted murder, hijacking and terrorism’. It was the trial that led first to his conviction and a life sentence, and subsequently to the infamous agreement under which the Sharif family remained exiled in Saudi Arabia for about a decade.

Soon enough, the chief justice hauled up the prime minister for contempt. What followed was incredible. The Supreme Court was stormed by an N-League mob that included several parliamentarians. The chief justice’s appeal for succour was heeded neither by the president nor by the army chief. Eventually, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was dethroned by his brother judges through a process that is still mentioned in whispers, and, ironically enough, he fell a victim to his own judgment in the Al-Jihad Trust case. Before the year 1997 ended, president Leghari resigned to hand Nawaz Sharif his second victory in quick time.

In October 1998, army chief General Jahangir Karamat suggested the formation of a National Security Council. This, too, was first proposed by Gen. Zia and he had inserted an article to this effect in the Constitution, but it was deleted at the time of the bargain over the 8th Amendment on the terms and conditions for lifting the martial law in 1985.

Nawaz Sharif asked the army chief to resign and the latter complied with the order (though he had the last laugh when after some time a National Security Council indeed started functioning.)

By the end of 1998, Nawaz Sharif had freed himself of all possible threats from the presidency, the judiciary and the GHQ, and had become the most powerful ruler of Pakistan ever. But he had built a castle on sand. On October 12, 1999, he ordered Gen. Musharraf’s replacement as the army chief by the then ISI chief who had failed to warn him of the officer corps’ decision not to tolerate the ‘humiliation’ of another chief. The Musharraf plane affair was bungled and the army took over. His arrest, conviction for plane hijack and exile to Saudi Arabia for nearly eight years is another story in political wilderness


The writer is a senior political analyst and human rights activist.


This story is the twelfth part of a series of 16 special reports under the banner of ‘70 years of Pakistan and Dawn’. Visit thearchive to read the previous reports.


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