Pakistan’s Prime Minister Falls, Again

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Tyler Comrie

For those hoping for signs of a deepening of democracy in Pakistan, the ouster of Nawaz Sharif provides no help. On the surface, the decision of the Pakistani Supreme Court to disqualify Mr. Sharif and his family from holding office over allegations of corruption seems a triumph for the rule of law, but the way it was done smacks too much of political infighting to celebrate, and the ensuing confusion is in no one’s interest. Nor is there much to cheer about for the future of Pakistan’s troubled relations with the United States and India.

It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Pakistan that the best hope on all these fronts after Mr. Sharif’s fall from power — remarkably, his third ouster — is that things don’t get worse. Civilian governments have always been hamstrung by the machinations of Pakistan’s security forces, with their obsession over India, their aggressive investment in nuclear weapons and their double-dealing in Afghanistan.

Mr. Sharif raised high hopes in 2013 when he assumed office in a peaceful transfer of power; a prime minister in Pakistan has yet to finish a full five-year term.

Mr. Sharif had been grooming his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, to succeed him, but the Supreme Court also disqualified her and two of her brothers from political office. The case against the family was based on disclosures last year in the Panama Papers which revealed that the children owned expensive properties in London through offshore companies.

The most likely successor is Mr. Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab Province. Shahbaz is regarded as a competent administrator, and he would probably be more acceptable to the security forces, who were wary of Mr. Sharif’s efforts to curb their power, encourage negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government, and improve relations with India, the military’s bête noire. But Nawaz remains the head of the governing political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and is not likely to vanish.

None of this bodes any improvement in relations with the Trump administration. Last week, the White House said it would again withhold some funds intended to reimburse Pakistan for military operations against Afghan terrorist groups because the Pakistanis had not taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network, a…

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