Pushpin on Islamabad map background. 3d illustration. Photo: iStock

Nothing threatens Pakistan’s enshrined military ruling class than the specter of civilian supremacy over the military junta. The key to keeping Pakistan a citadel is institutionalized opacity in the country’s civil-military relations. It is through obscurantism that Pakistan’s army governs. Any threat of returning Pakistan to a republic is openly confronted. The recent public clash between supporters of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the military and courts reveals a mix of volatility that openly challenges the governing junta.

Sharif is a three-time prime minister publically tried for corruption. The verdict on his trial is expected shortly. However, the military and judiciary are covertly working to criminalize his identity because he openly seeks to democratize Pakistan’s republic; in so doing he positions himself against the army leadership. As prime minister, Sharif openly sought to assert civilian rule over the military while pursuing peace with India. He also spoke openly about the army’s covert support for jihadi groups. All these issues openly threaten ideological pillars that underwrite army leadership.

Elections are expected this summer with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N leading with barely 36% of the vote, followed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party with 24%. Dr Ahmed Bilal Mehbood serves as president of Pakistan’s Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, an independent think-tank in Islamabad. His website revealed that “Pakistan’s political institutions perceive themselves as saviors of the system but are in fact its destroyers.”

Both the Supreme Court and Pakistan’s military have openly sought to criminalize Sharif’s social base, effectively marginalizing him and his party

Khan’s party sought Sharif’s ouster by filing briefs against him in the Supreme Court, which is currently hearing the corruption case against Sharif. They intend to bring the case to closure in May before summer elections. Consequently, the court has banned Sharif from leading his political party. Both the court and Pakistan’s military have openly sought to criminalize Sharif’s social base, effectively marginalizing him and his party.

Sharif’s trial may get him 14 years in jail. He remained the only political person capable of dethroning Pakistan’s army from its leadership role. The countries fragile democracy is cracking, with jihadi groups openly threatening both civil society and the army itself in contested areas like FATA. Pakistani bilateral relations with the United States have frayed, openly questioning its viability as a partner for the US in southwest Asia. With China promising money and infrastructure, Pakistani-US interests are only partially aligned, evidenced by drone strikes in its interior.

If Sharif goes to jail, Pakistan will have lost its best opportunity for a generation to reform its republic in the image of its founder, Mohammed Jinnah.

William Holland

William Holland is North American recruiter for Wikistrat global consultancy monitoring Pakistan's nuclear program.

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