New Delhi: The ouster of Nawaz Sharief is more serious than it appears at first sight. Having often been guilty of deposing Prime Ministers before, the Pakistan army has drawn the most criticism for the abrupt closure of Nawaz Sharief’s political career. It may have played a major role in the ignoble event, but it can scarcely be suggested as decisive. The Pakistan Supreme Court used a quixotic law with religious fundamentalist overtones to disqualify Sharief. This may just be the beginning. Other politicians could come under the net, including Imran Khan, who hopes to gain from Nawaz Sharief’s departure.

If the Pakistan army had been directly involved in punishing its most hated critic, its very predictability would have reduced the shock of the outcome. It wouldn’t have been the first army action against an elected government. Like prior, it would have failed, and returned a civilian regime in the next election for the whole process to repeat itself tiresomely and pointlessly. From what Pakistani journalists inform, the script seems to have played differently this time. “When the Supreme Court asked the army to provide representatives for a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in April 2017 to investigate Nawaz Sharief in the Panama scandal,” writes Hamid Mir in a mainstream Indian daily, “General (Qamar Javed) Bajwa was disturbed. “He didn’t want to become a part of it.” At all events, the Pakistan army chief complied with the Supreme Court’s directive.

The Supreme Court scarcely can be faulted for probing corruption. But rather than send the case for trial, it employed powers under a law introduced by General Zia-ul-Haq to dismiss Nawaz Sharief outright. The case did not even relate to the Panama scandal and there was no evidence of wrongdoing. Why the haste? If the Supreme Court had acted under army pressure, one could understand the injustice without seeing the need to further parse the matter. But this is different. The army seemed not particularly interested to rock the boat. Elections are due in a year. The army’s central role in foreign and national security policies especially as they pertained to India were unlikely to be affected by the elections. What then forced the Supreme Court’s hand against Nawaz Sharief? Unless this is known, it leaves Pakistan in a highly delicate and dangerous situation.

The former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, perceives glimpses of Iran’s Guardian Council in Nawaz Sharief’s dismissal by the judiciary, which is a significant and distressing observation. It would indicate that besides, of course, the civilian establishment, the army and the intelligence setups are not as potent as earlier, leaving the judiciary to acquire expanding powers to legitimize or disgrace elected politicians. Even given Pakistan’s chequered history, this is rather quite extraordinary. Before long, this might set in motion revolutionary fervour which might, at its peak, sweep away every infirm Pakistani democratic institution, weaken the army, and facilitate an Islamist revolution on India’s western border. From there to a country ruled entirely, medievally and darkly by Islamist laws is not inconceivable. Pakistan is entering an unknown and dangerous phase made doubly perilous by its possession of nuclear weapons.

Most important for the world (and especially India) is to know who or what forces are directing the judicial coup. What are its aims and final objectives? What role is planned for the army? Does it portend the death of democracy in Pakistan and the revival of a long war with India? There is a reassuring ordinariness to Shahbaz Sharief, Nawaz’s younger brother, being projected to continue his sibling’s political legacy. He has a reputation of closeness to the Pakistan army. He would profitably be employing his time investigating the murky deposal of Nawaz Sharief. Not now perhaps but when he becomes Prime Minister ... if he does. The Pakistan army cannot be pleased with the judiciary becoming the sole arbiter of the various fates of Pakistan’s politicians. Continuing on that course, the judiciary will come to challenge the Pakistan army’s authority in its own domain as well. The ensuing dissonance may embolden the terrorist establishment to seize the judiciary and establish its writ all over Pakistan. The scenario is less outlandish than it seems.

In all revolutions, the central authority starts off being righteous, virtuous, conscientious and blameless, but it inevitably begins consuming its own, and attracts to the core harder and more tyrannical leaders. When revolution’s terrible churn and ferment is mingled with Islamism, the results are bound to be horrible. It has a direct impact on countries in the region and on the near and far Great Powers, China, Russia and the United States. On no account must Nawaz Sharief’s ouster be treated as par for the course for Pakistan. Pakistan’s highly fractionated political class must put aside differences and rally for Sharief to be fairly tried. That demand would in all likelihood be disallowed, but it would warn the judiciary against overreach, and of further rendering Pakistan vulnerable to a dark and fearful takeover.