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Mihir Sharma

Pakistan’s Army Fights the Wrong Battle

Squeezing out the country's most popular politician won’t end well. 

Sharif’s supporters were blocked in Lahore. 

Sharif’s supporters were blocked in Lahore. 

Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Nawaz Sharif -- dodgy businessman, convicted criminal, and thrice prime minister of Pakistan -- showed on Friday, in his triumphant return to Pakistan, that he remains by far the country’s most popular politician. Infuriatingly, he also represents Pakistan’s best chance at becoming a “normal” country anytime soon. As he fights what looks very much like an attempt by the military to decide the next election, the rest of us should hope he succeeds.

True, neither Sharif nor the army are actually running. The generals don’t need to get directly involved in the vote, to be held in under a fortnight. Their long history of using proxies in Afghanistan and in India seems to have convinced them they can simply do the same in domestic politics -- in this case, through ex-cricketer Imran Khan, whose 20-year quest to become prime minister may be within days of being fulfilled.