Pakistan Army’s Graduation From Military Coups To ‘Judicial Coups’ – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila*

Pakistan Army yet again succeeded in overturning the strong electoral mandate with which PM Nawaz Sharif rode into power for the third time in 2013 and this time by a “Judicial Coup” with a complicit Supreme Court Judiciary.

The Pakistan Army has moved away from its traditional military coups for regime changes of its elected Prime Ministers to ‘soft political coups ‘attempted by the previous Pak Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, and in 2017 finally succeeded in displacing PM Nawaz Sharif through a “Judicial Coup” with full complicity of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Judiciary and Pakistan’s pretender for Prime Ministership Imran Khan who is widely believed to be a stool pigeon of the Pakistan Army military hierarchy and the ISI.

The above was foreseen presciently by noted Indian Columnist and policy analyst, M.D. Nalapat who had noted this in his writings in the Indian media organ ‘Sunday Guardian’ of 16 November 2016 wherein he noted that: “Analysts in key countries who are engaged in tracking developments in Pakistan warn that General Headquarters, Rawalpindi has initiated a plan to remove Prime Minister Nawaz before middle of 2017. Instead of a Musharraf-style military coup this time around the planning is for Pakistan’s Supreme Court to perform the (not very difficult) task of finding Nawaz Sharif guilty of corruption and initiating his prosecution. The grounds given will be the Panama Papers revelations along with fresh evidence gathered by GHQ Rawalpindi, military intelligence authorities including undeclared assets in the United States and Canada”.

Pakistan Army’s HQ, Rawalpindi, script has panned out as scripted with a compliant Pakistan Supreme Court Judiciary as a willing accomplice.

The case and implicit charges of complicity of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Judiciary stand articulated by Pakistan’s noted Human Rights activist and lawyer, Asma Jahangir who has commented scathingly on this whole process of judicial fudge-up to remove PM Nawaz Sharif from office. The main charges made by her against the Pakistan Supreme Court Judiciary are as follows: (1) JIT report was an investigation report by an agency. Veracity is still to be proven (2) Unprecedented for a JIT to include ISI and Military Intelligence officers as members of JIT investigating allegations against the Prime Minister (3) Investigation report is not a verdict.

Asma Jahangir pointedly observed that Panama Papers included names of many other Pakistanis. Why have they not been included in the ambit of JIT investigations which focussed on PM Nawaz only? More pointedly, Asma Jahangir notes that why did Pakistan’s Supreme Court not proceed against PM Nawaz Sharif as long as he was seen close to the Pakistan Army GHQ and why now when Pakistan Army GHQ perceives that Nawaz Sharif was not toeing the Pakistan Army GHQ line? Could complicity of Pakistan Supreme Court Judiciary with Pakistan Army GHQ need to be proven further?

Observers have pointed out that ousting of Pakistani Prime Ministers by judicial intervention is becoming a trend and cited past such judicial interventions of unseating PM Gilani (2008-12) and PM Raja Pervez (2013-13).

The New York Times commenting on PM Nawaz Sharif’s ouster last week observed that Pakistan’s Supreme Court legalised three military coups in the past in 1958, 1977 and 1999 under the dubious pretext of the “Doctrine of Necessity”. In another stirring indictment of Pakistan Supreme Court Judiciary commented that: “The empowered judges have become media-courting populists and having typically joined forces with the military by using allegations of corruption against disobedient prime ministers.”

It was also observed that no Supreme Court Judge has ever proceeded against Pakistan Army generals for Human Rights violations or on corruption allegations.

The ouster of PM Nawaz by a judicial coup would certainly impact the internal dynamics of Pakistan’s political landscape. In an ‘Opinion ‘article in the English Daily ‘The Independent’ it has been observed that “For a State that has been dominated by the military throughout its 70 years of existence, and where every military coup has been sanctioned by the judiciary,, yet another premature dismissal of an elected leader, even if on perfectly legal grounds —- could further tarnish the credibility of the civilian authority and reinforce the Army’s grip on the country’s fate”.

Crucially, there are two questions that hover in the analysis of PM Nawaz Sharif’s ouster by the Pakistan Army through the instrument of a ‘Judicial Coup” by a complicit and compliant Supreme Court Judiciary. The first is why has the Pakistan Army struck now when there was hardly a year for PM Nawaz Sharif’s five year tenure to have ended—the fist by any Pakistani Prime Minister? Secondly, where did the external stimulus come from for the Pakistan Army regime-change impulse at this juncture?

Pakistan Army’s intense dislike for PM Nawaz Sharif and the political direction that he wanted to give to Pakistani foreign policies are well-known and well-discussed in media analyses. Suffice it to say, that the Pakistan Army was deadly against PM Nawaz Sharif’s soft line approaches to India and the Kashmir issue and also Afghanistan. This clashed with Pakistan Army’s strategies. Also was the Pakistan Army’s displeasure with PM Nawaz Sharif not letting General Musharraf off the legal straightjacket as desired by the Pak Army?

In terms of external stimulus for regime change in Pakistan, it can be logically analysed that this stimulus has come in a big way from China. China openly has been calling for an orderly transfer of power. But the main question, pray may I ask is the transfer of power to whom?

Relative to the CPEC, while Pakistan’s civilian leadership including PM Nawaz Sharif, himself as a good businessman, were well-disposed to the CPEC but China was intensely concerned that with the deteriorating law and order situation in Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan could hit its CPEC massive investments and CPEC could be derailed. The Pakistan Army in a much stronger driver’s mode in Pakistan’s affairs was seen by China as the preferred insurance to protect its CPEC investments. This again has to be viewed in the backdrop of the growing resentment in Pakistani civilian circles of the Pakistani wisdom of joining and facilitating the CPEC to please China. Some have questioned the Army’s commitment unreservedly.

China however was not in favour of an outright direct military coup which could in contemporary circumstances have possibly invited economic sanctions from the US and the West besides stringent criticism of China already under attack on its complicity over the North Korea missile tests issue.

A Pakistan Army GHQ engineered “Judicial Coup” was seen by China as a no-cost low-cost option especially it could be passed-of as yet another Pak Army-Supreme Court Judiciary complicity traditional pattern.

Pakistan seems set for yet another one year of political turmoil till the My2018 General Elections. Who knows that the Pakistan Army GHQ could prolong Pakistan’s political turbulence by directly stepping-in on its traditional pretexts of restoring law and order? Logically, vociferous protests and demonstrations by Sharif’s supporters to bring Pakistan Army’s accomplice Imran Khan also for legal trial over similar allegations could rock Pakistan’s domestic scene.

So while China gains it is the United States and India as the other pivotal powers with a stake in South Asia peace and security that would be significantly impacted by Pakistani turmoil. While India is accustomed and conditioned to Pakistan’s turmoil, the danger is that the United States should not stumble again into adopting Pakistan-appeasement policies.

Concluding, perceptionaly, it is not Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who stands guilty today but the unholy nexus and complicity of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Judiciary with Pakistan Army GHQ in derailing Pakistan’s nascent democracy. Ironically the Pakistan masses ELECTED LEADERS are always rejected by the Pakistan Army GHQ-Supreme Court nexus through dubious “Judicial Coups”.

*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected]


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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