New Delhi: The sword that hangs over the Nawaz Sharief family courtesy the Panama Papers scandal has brought joy to the institutional face of the Pakistan army and to the leading members of Pakistan’s opposition parties. Their happiness may be short-lived if the full consequences of the political condemnation of the Sharief dynasty become apparent.

There was a time when the Pakistan army was all-powerful. That is no longer the case. Its military record against India, in containing internal terrorist violence, and in influencing strategic affairs in Afghanistan are all available in the public domain. But that is still not the real reason for its depleted strength. The Pakistan army knows that it cannot govern Pakistan. It has failed and it has proved no better than Pakistan’s politicians in setting things right in the country.

Pakistan’s politicians are also a defeated and dejected tribe. Nawaz Sharief is the last of Pakistan’s weighty leaders. Imran Khan compares poorly to him both within the country and abroad. Khan received the same backing from the Pakistan army as Nawaz Sharief did early in his political career. Sharief rose. Khan has stagnated. Bilawal Bhutto, Benazir’s son, is untested in national politics. His father was surprisingly good. Abruptly removing Nawaz Sharief from the scene, in the circumstances, would create a political vacuum which would be filled with right-wing terrorist forces like the Lashkar-e-Toiba in Punjab.

The weakness of Pakistan’s political establishment, indeed, stems from there being no genuine national leader. Nawaz Sharief does come close to being one, but his political base is Punjab. For themselves, Imran Khan and Bhutto could only predominantly claim Pathan and Sindhi adherents. It won’t do.

The Nawaz Sharief family, for better or worse, also controls Pakistan’s most important province, Punjab. Punjab is the epicentre of terrorism too directed both inward and to neighbouring India and Afghanistan. The Nawaz Sharief family has a pragmatic understanding with the Punjabi terrorist groups which keeps them somehow on top. Remove the Shariefs and the field is left open to Lashkar-e-Toiba and their ilk.

No sane person in Pakistan would want that.

This writer is not taking the side of the Shariefs. By no means. Let the law take its course. But the political dynamic of Pakistan will change without the Shariefs.

The Pakistan army can argue that it can create a Nawaz Sharief clone for Punjab. There is no time for that. Besides, the international situation has changed from the era when General Zia-ul-Haq could get away with political manipulations. Jihad then was seen as a force of good against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Now it is equalled with terrorism. Pakistan was a “frontline” state against communist expansion in the 1980s. Today, it is close to becoming a pariah nation. The Pakistan army should get a fair picture of where Pakistan stands. Besides, its own failures of governance bring no lustre to its candidates. Look no further than Imran Khan. Serving Pakistani military officers posted in India rubbish him.

There is something else to consider: China and its CPEC stakes. China is poised to sink billions into Pakistan. Pakistani industrialists and businessmen, not to speak of the Pakistan government, will pony up large sums themselves. Would these investors, Chinese and Pakistani, stand for terrorists to take over Pakistan after Sharief’s exit leaves a huge political vacuum? The balance of power in Pakistan has become so widely dispersed that the removal of one critical element will upset the entire equilibrium. Since it is only the terrorists so far who have not got a chance of political power, they will be the sole gainers in a post-Sharief setup. And that changed circumstance will signal the jihadist takeover of the Pakistani state with its nuclear weapons.

Instead of deriving Schadenfreude from the misfortune of the Sharief family, political parties and the Pakistan army must seek to contain the fallouts. Militarism has spiralled Pakistan downward. With all its imperfections, democratic politics is the way forward. Pakistan cannot afford more failure.