Nawaz Sharif's return to Pakistan has added to the already precarious and complex political situation in the country. The possibility of military involvement in his return further complicates the dynamics of the civilian government and the military authority in Pakistan.
The military establishment’s stifling influence has tainted Pakistan’s political landscape’s historical narrative. The military’s constant meddling in the political process has seriously impeded the country’s progress towards a stable government. The troubling reality of Pakistan’s power dynamics is brought to light by the frequent military incursions that frequently lead to the overthrow of elected leaders. Throughout the nation’s history, the military has manipulated the democratic system to serve its own goals by using its power with an iron grip. One of the most overt examples of this kind of interference took place in 1958, when General Ayub Khan’s military took over through a coup, initiating a string of military governments that would undermine Pakistan’s political stability. The removals of elected prime ministers Nawaz Sharif in 1993 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 further highlight the pattern of military interference in Pakistan’s political affairs.
Furthermore, the military’s manipulation of democratic processes—which frequently involved the use of strong-arm tactics and intimidation to compel compliance—further strengthened its grip on power. The military takeover in 1977 that resulted in the establishment of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s government served as an example of how democratic liberties were severely restricted and oppositional voices were silenced. The military constantly interfered to impose compliant politicians in the years that followed, so undermining the Pakistani people’s desire for democracy. The Pakistan military has actively governed the state for 33 years, and for the rest of that time, it has wielded influence from the shadows. Despite setbacks, including a significant defeat in 1971, the military has proven resilient, enforcing its rule by force and intimidation. The recent rebellion of its alleged friend, Imran Khan, in 2022, following his dismissal from power due to a squabble with former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, offered a challenge to Bajwa and his replacement, Asim Munir, and caught many off guard.
After Pakistani authorities detained Imran Khan on May 9, 2023, on corruption-related allegations, the military quickly took advantage of the situation to strengthen its influence in the nation. Under the leadership of Asim Munir, the military used the confusion and disruption that Khan’s supporters had created in the wake of his arrest to its advantage. They acted decisively to consolidate their power and crush any opposition or dissent. The army asserted its influence in the political sphere by using violence and discontent as a pretext. Asim Munir launched a crackdown on those responsible for the violent crimes, including Imran Khan’s sympathizers and instigators, with the backing of top commanders and the civilian government. This purge not only removed important individuals who supported Khan but also made a strong statement to any future dissidents or opponents within the military.
Asim Munir took advantage of the circumstances to eliminate any Imran Khan supporters still present in the military institution. As part of this, senior army officers who were thought to share Khan’s views were fired, eliminating any opposition from the ranks of the armed forces. Recent changes to significant legislation have strengthened the army’s role by giving it more authority in intelligence operations and business endeavors. In tandem with the military’s proactive tactics, this legislative reinforcement ensured the military’s dominance within the national framework and solidified its control over important facets of the state apparatus. The revisions to the Official Secrets Act and the Pakistan Army Act have bolstered the military’s hold on power by allowing it broad autonomy in intelligence operations and legalizing its business endeavors. The military’s declaration of a Special Investment Facilitation Council aims to increase its economic power while assuring control over the impending elections through the formation of a caretaker administration compatible with its objectives. Amidst this dynamics, there is an addition and twist to it. The arrival of PML leader and an ex-head, Mian Nawaz Shareef, back to Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif, who served as Pakistan's Prime Minister three times, returned to Lahore on October 21, 2023, following a four-year self-exile in London. His appearance was met with ecstasy, with hordes of admirers cheering him on during his speech. Sharif, as a seasoned statesman, has left an indelible mark on the nation's past and continues to wield tremendous influence over its current trajectory. Nawaz Sharif's return to Pakistan comes at a time when the country is being led by an interim prime minister and elections are scheduled for early next year. With Imran Khan out of the way, Sharif’s return to Pakistan after four years in self-imposed exile in London should not be overlooked in terms of Pakistan’s political destiny.
There have been rumors that Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan was made possible by the military. Despite the fact that he was considered an absconder under Pakistani law, he was greeted with the pomp and circumstance befitting a Prime Minister-in-waiting. Upon his return, he was accorded every respect and facility, including a meticulous orchestration by the courts to prevent his immediate arrest, despite their past antagonism, which resulted in his expulsion during what many consider a judicial coup in 2017.
With Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's seasoned politician, competing for a likely fourth and possibly final term as Prime Minister, he has emerged as the Army's preferred choice, poised against his long-standing opponent, Imran Khan. There are concerns about the level of military engagement in Sharif’s homecoming and its possible effects on Pakistan’s political climate given the nation's history of military involvement in politics. His return from a self-imposed exile suggests a complicated power struggle between political figures and the military establishment. According to some analysts, Sharif’s return could be a sign of a secret agreement or discussion with the military, or it could be a premeditated attempt to upset the political balance.
Though his reappearance would suggest some accord or cooperation with the armed forces, the actual nature and details of any agreements are still very much up in the air. According to some analysts, his comeback might represent an effort to maintain a precarious balance in Pakistan's political landscape by balancing the interests of various power centers, such as the military establishment and outside parties. The military's reaction to Sharif's homecoming, particularly its posture and subsequent actions, will be widely watched since it could provide insight into the country's political landscape's underlying power dynamics and future directions. When Sharif re-enters Pakistan’s political scene, observers will be watching to see if the military plays a more active or more passive role in influencing the outcome.
The return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan has taken place in the context of a convoluted political environment shaped by the military establishment’s sway. His return from a self-imposed exile has sparked debates on the military’s involvement in enabling it as well as its ramifications for the nation's political landscape. These conjectures highlight the complex web of power relations in operation. This story suggests that Sharif's comeback may be a component of a larger settlement or reconciliation, possibly with the implicit backing of regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and the military establishment.
The scenario is made more complicated by the timing of Sharif's return, which comes amid elections and an interim government. It calls into question how much the military influences the political landscape and how much it might be willing to work with Sharif's political comeback within the established power institutions. Furthermore, the ongoing fight for stability and the establishment of democracy characterizes Pakistan's political environment in its larger context. A complicated and unstable political environment is a result of ongoing conflicts between the military and civilian governments as well as outside influences.
Though hopes for a possible return to political normalcy have been heightened by Sharif's homecoming, worries regarding the balance of power and its possible effects on democracy still exist. The complex relationship that exists between the military, political players, and outside influences will continue to influence Pakistan's political course, making Sharif's comeback an important turning point in the country's ongoing political narrative. The military's involvement in Nawaz Sharif's comeback highlights the precarious balance between civilian government and military authority and raises important concerns about the dynamics of power and influence in Pakistan. In the near future, Pakistan's political landscape will probably continue to be shaped by the ramifications of this complex relationship.
Nasir Khuehami is the National Convenor of J&K Students Association. He is pursuing a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building from Jamia Millia Islamia and can be reached at Khuehamiayaan@gmail.com).
Zahoor Ahmed Mir is a Research Scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com.