Mian Nawaz Sharif finds himself removed from office for the third time. He has already made two comebacks, and hopes to make a third. He has already been a thorn in the side of whoever wants a pliable and obedient dummy at the top, because he has had everything thrown at him. His first ouster was by Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993, when his government was dissolved under Article 58(2b). The Supreme Court restored him and his government. However, the confrontation between him and the Punjab government led to his advising a dissolution, the resignation of President Ishaq, and fresh elections. He lost them, but won the 1997 elections, but was ousted by a military coup. He remained out of power till 2008, when his party won office in Punjab and returned to office in 2013 for the third time. Now he has found himself ousted by a judicial decision.

The decision itself is based on his having failed to declare the salary he could have drawn as the chairman of an offshore company. The Supreme Court has decided, and while there may well be legal quibbles, there is a general feeling that justice has been done. This has several aspects. The first is that the system does not deliver justice. This lack of confidence allows losers to claim that they would have won under a fair system. Second, there is the implication that politics is only for the corrupt. This has obvious implications for the PTI, which has so far based its politics on winning to its side ‘electables’, or constituency heavyweights. These are precisely the sort of people that Mian Nawaz first courted in 1985 when he first became Punjab CM. The ability of ‘electables’ to win, or at least be competitive on their seats, has depended on their ability to be elected, as well as to obtain access to government resources. The ability to have someone flung into jail on patently false charges, accompanied by the ability to have someone released even if he is as guilty as sin, goes with the territory.

Indeed, wags claim there is something called the PHP, or the Pakistan Hukumati Party, which was once the PML, then the Republicans, then the Convention League, then the PPP, then the PML, then the PML(N) and PPP alternating, then the PML(Q) and may now be the PTI, and which has been interspersed with the military on four occasions. The slogan of the members of this party is: “We never change party loyalties. The government does.”

It should also be noted that the competing political parties are generally founded by people who have been nurtured by military regimes. That is how the PPP and the PML(N) originated; and now the PTI. The canny constituency operative wants to be on the side of the government, and opts to join the party which allows him access to government resources. He thus joins the party he thinks is the coming thing, or even simply which he is told to join.

The PML(N) and the PPP may have been founded this way, but now they respectively represent the broad right and broad left. The ‘purist’ right and the ‘purist’ left may have their religious and socialist parties, but even these tend to gravitate to the mainstream parties. The PTI represents a threat to both, but it seems to be drawing primarily the PPP vote, as well as party stalwarts.

The PML(N) may still be in office, but it is in disarray. It has suffered a decapitation strike, and while at the moment it is scrambling for a replacement as PM, it also needs a party chief who can take it into the next election, due in a year’s time.

The country will be subjected to the sight of a replacement PM who will hold office until the real replacement finds a seat in the National Assembly. The first was Ch Shujat Hussain, who was PM in 2009 after Mir Zafarullah Jamali resigned in June and Shaukat Aziz took over in November, after finding a seat. (He was originally a member of the Senate). Mian Shehbaz, who will come in for the next election, and probably head the party beyond that, will probably contest the by-election on Mian Nawaz’s seat, giving up the Punjab chief ministership he has held twice, like his elder brother.

It is possible that Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali might leave because he was ignored. Thus the disqualification may bring down the curtain on the careers of the last prominent members of the 1985 assemblies still in active politics. Ch Nisar Ali was a minister of state in the Junejo cabinet, holding the Petroleum Ministry. Interestingly, that is the portfolio he held before in the 1990 and 1997 Nawaz cabinets. He got Interior this time after the old holder of the office, Ch Shujat, went to the PML(Q). Ch Nisar was thus a colleague of Shahid Khaqan’s father, Khaqan Abbassi, who died before contesting the 1988 election, which thus marked Shahid’s electoral debut. Like Ch Nisar, Shahid sits for a Rawalpindi district constituency and has won continuously ever since for the PML(N). His parliamentary career is thus co-terminous with Mian Shehbaz’s, though the latter has only sat once in the National Assembly, during 1990-3.

The dispute of whether Mian Nawaz is permanently disqualified or not is still unsettled. It should be noted that the ‘sadiq and ameen’ condition was introduced by General Ziaul Haq. The permanence of the ban reflects the military mindset, where there is no repentance for a sin, or rehabilitation for a criminal. Once a miserable sinner is caught, out he goes, to the depths of hell, for ever and ever. This was reflected in the amendments to the Constitution wrought by the National Reconstruction Bureau under Lt Gen Tanvir Naqvi. There have been attempts by the PML(N) to suggest that the ban only applies to the 2013 election, and the example of other MNAs disqualified for similar offences then fighting the by-election have been mentioned. If it were so simple, then the PML(N) would merely regard this disqualification as it did that of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, who was re-elected.

It would be difficult to assume that a Pakistani PM could be unseated, with the War on Terror still ongoing and Afghanistan threatening to fall apart, without the USA having a say. Officially, the USA has been very proper, but has Mian Nawaz been riling its feathers? Is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor a problem? Or is the pace of normalisation with India not enough? These are not goals that Mian Nawaz has been pushing, but which the establishment also pursues. At the same time, the junior echelons of the establishment also oppose these goals. The danger is where the establishment itself finds itself being targeted for being brought to heel, when such a sacrifice as a PM will not be enough to win the sort of praise the Sisi regime has been given.

The signal sent by the plea-bargain of Rs 2 billion of Balochistan Finance Secretary Mushtaq Raisani in December, to avoid prosecution for the money recovered in last May’s raid from his house, has apparently been reversed. However, unless politicians just cannot find willing officials, there will be no check on corruption, no matter how many PMs are removed.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

The slogan of the members of this party is: “We never change party loyalties. The government does.”