I hope you will forgive me for quoting extensively from a book I have written, but I feel strongly that we should all reflect about what took place in the past when Mr Nawaz Sharif was in power. In November 1998, during Mr Sharif's leadership of government, the then President, Muhammad Rafiq Tarar, signed into law the Pakistan Armed Forces Ordinance, 1998, which was intended to legalise harsh counter-measures against terrorism and general mayhem in Sindh and especially Karachi (there was an excellent examination of armed forces' involvement by the ever-watchful Brigadier A R Siddiqui in The Nation of January 13, 1999), but the main features were disturbing. The old Article 245 of the constitution, one would have thought, would have met most requirements, in that: 1.    The armed forces shall, under the directions of the federal government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of [the] civil power when called upon to do so; and 2.    The validity of any direction issued by the federal government under clause (1) shall not be called into question by any court. But this was deemed inadequate by Mr Sharif's government and it tried to bring in a new set of laws, seemingly without seeking legal advice from those best qualified to give it. Tinkering with the constitution was a hobby of General Ziaul Haq, who sought to maintain his autocratic power by equating legality with personal ambition, and to that end demanded that lawyers discover language whereby the convergence might be furthered. It seems that this inclination had not deserted Pakistan's leaders in 1998 (and it might be remembered that it was Zia who appointed Nawaz Sharif Chief Minister of Punjab in 1985), for the Ordinance gave authority for the convening of military courts 'to try offences trialable [sic] under this ordinance', and declared many activities as not only illegal but deserving of severe punishment. The terms of Section (3)(1), were Draconian enough to have been constructed by the Raj in some of its worst moments of retribution against malcontent natives: 6. Creating Civil Commotion: 'Civil Commotion' means creation of internal disturbances in violation of law or intended to violate law, commencement or continuation of illegal strikes, go-slows, lock-outs, vehicles snatching or lifting [sic], damage to or destruction of State or private property, random firing to create panic, charging bhatha, acts of criminal trespass (illegal qabza), distributing, publishing or pasting of a handbill or making graffiti or wall-chalking intended to create unrest or fear or create a threat to the security of law and order or to incite the commission of an offence punishable under Chapter VI of the Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860 [sic].) 7. Punishment for creating civil commotion: Whoever commits an act of civil commotion shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both. This law was as vicious as it was all-embracing. Legally-appointed enforcers of the Ordinance could interpret a chalk mark on a wall as 'incitement' just as those zealous in enforcement of Sharia could declare an innocent person a defiler of the Quran were he or she to offend against a landowner's greed-induced illegal land-grabbing, however contrary to the true precepts of the holy book and its interpretations their own actions might be. The constitution was being violated, and the army was being drawn into endorsement of its violation ; and the army did not relish its role as courts-martial provider to the nation. Under Mr Sharif in 1999 the country was far from stable: corruption continued on a massive scale, the economy was in tatters and the rule of law was all but defunct. The 'Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 (Amendment) Ordinance' was repressive and reminiscent of the worst periods of martial law. Press freedom was under continuous threat, and it was only international outrage that resulted in the cessation of harassment of various newspapers. It appeared that the government of Nawaz Sharif would go to almost any lengths to destroy those who opposed it or even commented adversely on its erratic performance. In September 1999 Benazir Bhutto and her husband were found guilty in Pakistan of corruption involving deals with a Swiss company. (Ms Bhutto had been overseas since April, and decided to remain out of the country. Her husband was already in prison in Pakistan. He was freed on bail during the time of President Musharraf.) According to the BBC "Soon after the conviction, audiotapes of conversations between the judge and some top aides of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were discovered that showed that the judge had been under pressure to convict." The threats made against the editor of The News, Rawalpindi, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, by a member of the government were bizarre, and resembled those of the Nazis against the German press in the mid-1930s. There was a nation-wide strike caused by proposals to institute a sales tax. Violence against women was actually endorsed by the ruling party, and Human Rights Watch recorded that "The government repeatedly failed to uphold the civil liberties of women or to punish 'honour killings.' In one particularly egregious case, Samia Sarwar was shot and killed in the Lahore office of the AGHS Legal Aid Cell on April 6 by a gunman who had apparently been hired by her family. A resident of Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province and the daughter of Ghulam Sarwar Khan Mohmand, president of a local chamber of commerce and industry. Sarwar had travelled to Lahore the previous month to obtain a divorce, over her parents' objections. Although the First Information Report included them in the list of the accused, neither Sarwar's father, mother, or uncle was arrested. And despite strong and credible evidence linking them to the murder, the investigation report submitted by the police concluded that there was no evidence of involvement by Sarwar's family." Chaos reigned, and it seemed that the government's aim was to enunciate grandiose projects of which nothing more was heard after headlines have been obtained. There was no credible political Opposition, and religious militancy was on the rise. The military were confused, but although resentful of Sharif's conduct it seemed that they were prepared to live with it. Certainly none of the senior officers at the time has indicated otherwise, and one wonders whether there would have been an army take over had Nawaz Sharif not decided to appoint a new army chief while Musharraf was overseas. And we all know what happened after that. But what, one wonders, is the agenda, now, of Mr Sharif? Does he still support establishment of military courts to try those accused of "creating civil commotion", for example? Or does he just want power for the sake of power? The writer is a South Asian political and military affairs analyst E-mail: beecluff@aol.com