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The scoop that shook Pakistan: Did a news report bring Nawaz Sharif down?

The report had revealed something that had rarely happened in Pakistan: the mouse of the government was roaring back at the lion of the military.

, ET Online|
Updated: Jul 28, 2017, 04.32 PM IST
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NEW DELHI: On October 6 last year, the Dawn newspaper of Pakistan carried a story on a closed-door government meeting by journalist Cyril Almeida that made the Pakistani military mighty angry. Almeida revealed something that had rarely happened in Pakistan: the mouse of the government was roaring back at the lion of the military. Sharif's downfall—his indictment in the Panama Papers case and disqualification as prime minister—might be the lion getting back at the spunky mouse.

Prime Minister Sharif had chaired a meeting between the government and the military brass on Pakistan's diplomatic isolation after an attack by Pakistani terrorists on an Indian army camp in September last year. There was a big pressure on Pakistan to act against terror. His younger brother and Punjab state Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif blurted out the hard truth to ISI DG Rizwan Akhtar: "Addressing Gen Akhtar, the younger Sharif complained that whenever action has been taken against certain groups by civilian authorities, the security establishment has worked behind the scenes to set the arrested free. Astounded onlookers describe a stunned room that was immediately aware of the extraordinary, unprecedented nature of the exchange," wrote Almeida in his report.

In Pakistan, no civil official can dare tell the military to crack down on terror, precisely because it's the military that sponsors terrorists.

Almeida's scoop shook the military. A force that has ruled Pakistani directly and indirectly most of the time could not stomach the humiliation of a civilian government talking down to it.

Though Dawn stood by its story, Prime Minister Sharif as well as his younger brother Shahbaz denied that the military was confronted by the government and called the story fabricated, ostensibly after then Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif rebuked them. Almeida was barred from leaving Pakistan.

The story highlighted the turn Prime Minister Sharif was trying to give to Pakistan's policy on terror. One, he was willing to crack down on Jaish-i-Mohmmad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network, the terror groups that thrive in Pakistan with the support of its military; two, he was trying to placate India by probing recent strikes inside the country by Pakistani terrorists. Both the ideas are anathema to the Pakistani military establishment, and they might have cost Sharif his job.

It is no secret that military controls all of Pakistan, including its courts. In fact, two army officers from ISI and military intelligence were on the six-member team that investigated corruption charges against Sharif.

Sharif not only tried to crack down on terror and improve ties with India, he also worked to boost economy and infrastructure. He could have won the elections next year and come back to power, giving Pakistan what it has mostly lacked and what its military always dreads—political stability.

Almedia's scoop revealed Sharif's radical intentions, exposed military to public humiliation and spurred the top brass to control the civilian establishment before it could become too big for its boots.

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