Nawaz Sharif in soup over Panama Leaks

Islamabad: For long, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed was part of PM Nawaz Sharif’s inner circle. Ahmed gravitated toward Sharif after starting his career as a student politician overcoming his humble origin unlike the norm in Pakistan’s elitist political culture. Their common Kashmiri ancestry too bonded them.

Kashmiris have dominated Sharif’s clique and most of his top ministers belong to this biradiri. Sharif and Ahmed’s friendship was intense and their animosity has been the same since they parted ways in 1999. Ahmed is now the lone MP of his party, Awami Muslim League, but wields disproportionate influence as a rating-generating primetime TV regular. A powerful orator, he boasts of being an one-man ‘aam admi’ opposition leader.

Ahmed is known for his proximity to the military establishment and often echoes its views, albeit with embellishments. He uses his primetime space to target mostly Sharif and his coterie.

Defence minister Khawaja Asif is the main target of his barbs. Ahmed often cites army chief Raheel Sharif’s frequent meetings with defence ministers of different countries, but points out the General’s snubbing of Asif, who had once earned the army’s ire for assailing it in parliament. On one of the primetime TV shows, Ahmed rubbed it in, claiming he had met Gen Raheel once and asked him why he snubs Asif. When Asif had a rare meeting with the General on Tuesday along with his colleagues, opposition senator Aitzaz Ahsan insisted that they were summoned to the army headquarters and “sat like schoolchildren” there.

The meeting coincided with Sharif’s recuperation in Londonafter a surgery, which cynics believe was “necessitated” by the Panama Papers leak that revealed the Sharifs’ ownership of offshore firms.

The revelation has allowed the establishment to further tighten screws on Sharif and the meeting was seen as a reflection of this. Sharif seems to have overcome the fresh crisis but it has undermined his authority further.

The army, in any case, enjoys levers of power while the General outshines Sharif in terms of popularity, largely due to a perceptible improvement in the security situation. It was recently reported to have been upset over Sharif administration’s silence over the arrest of an alleged Indian spy before the Panama leak gave it a clear upper hand. Sharif has lost power twice following his confrontations with the army, forcing him to be more accommodative this time.