Nawaz Sharif, back in his palatial Raiwind home after leading a gruelling rally on the Grand Trunk road, has a lot of introspection to do about his political future.
The rally was a mixed bag. The turnout was modest as contrary to the PML-N leadership expectations. The whole of central Punjab simply did not turn up alongside the GT road to welcome their leader on his journey back home.
Sharif’s theme at various stopovers on his route back was quite strident. He did not hide his ire against the five-member apex court bench that disqualified him. According to the former prime minister the judges just took a minute to send him home thus insulting millions of his voters who had elected him.
He also maintained that he had not engaged even in a penny’s corruption during his various tenures as chief minister Punjab and prime minister. That is why he was sent packing for not declaring salary from his son’s company in UAE, which according to him he never drew.
Notwithstanding the veracity or otherwise of his claims of being squeaky clean during his political career spanned over several decades, Sharif needs to do a lot of soul-searching.
His immediate worry should be the NAB references to be filed against him and his family members under direct supervision of the Supreme Court. He does not hide his disdain for the so-called accountability putsch against him. He thinks the dice is heavily loaded against him to ultimately seal his fate as a politician.
A review petition is also being filed against the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying him. But Sharif does not expect the review judgment to be any different from the original verdict.
Obviously the former prime minister’s options of making a comeback soon seem extremely limited. He has, however, vowed to initiate with other political parties ‘a grand political dialogue’ to strengthen democratic institutions.
This is a very noble aim. The other day the Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani urged for a dialogue between the executive, military and judiciary to thwart any possible collision between the institutions. An honourable aim supported by senators from across the aisles.
But as Senator Sherry Rehman rightly maintained in an interview with me, first Sharif will have to apologise and re-establish his reliability in order to start a fresh discourse. Unfortunately, his credibility with the opposition is at an all-time low.
Any meaningful talks at this stage with the PTI is a non-starter. So far as Zardari is concerned he hates Sharif’s guts. During the past two years he has refused even to shake hands with him.
The GT road march was good for starters. However, invoking the martyr card and being in power as well seems not to have entirely worked. Hence the patchy crowd response alongside the rally route
He feels that after the PPP literally bailed out the beleaguered PML-N during the 2014 dharna by refusing to side with Imran Khan, Sharif simply ditched him. The prime minister had his own reasons for doing so.
He did not want to annoy the then COAS General Raheel Sharif by showing any sympathy or leniency towards the incarcerated Dr Asim, Zardari’s close friend. Similarly, model Ayan Ali was hounded by the interior ministry headed by Nisar Ali Khan for being close to the PPP.
Sharif is lucky that the PTI rank and file, in its penchant for a solo flight, has not pulled its punches attacking the PPP. The Khan, heady with success from Sharif’s ouster, roared the other day in a public meeting that now it was Zardari’s turn.
Of course there is an unwritten consensus amongst most political parties (perhaps even the recalcitrant PTI) upon striking off articles 62 and 63 from the constitution for being too arbitrary. The main stumbling block in the past for removal of an article — inserted by late dictator Zia ul Haq for ousting prime ministers for not being ‘sadiqand ameen‘ (righteous and honest) — has been the PML-N itself.
After being hoisted with his own petard Sharif wants its removal. Both the PML-N and the PPP, perceiving the PTI being a common threat, perhaps can reach a limited understanding on a number of issues.
Suddenly the former prime minister after being ousted has remembered the virtues of the COD (charter of democracy) that he signed with much fanfare in London in 2006 with Benazir Bhutto (Shaheed).
Unfortunately, whether in the opposition or in power, the Sharifs have brazenly flouted it. In the end analysis it practically became a dead document.
Now flogging this dead horse in order to revive it will entail a herculean effort. There is no guarantee that the PML-N, still the ruling party, will adhere to it in letter and spirit.
The PPP has a better record on this count. Sharif brothers left no stone unturned to use all kinds of tactics to make life difficult for the PPP government. As leader of the opposition, Nawaz Sharif by virtue of having an LLB degree personally appeared as a lawyer in the Memogate case to plead against Zardari in order to get him declared a security risk.
Sharif since his ouster has been careful about blaming the military leadership for his present travails. Obliquely his supporters hold the ubiquitous establishment, in cahoots with the judiciary, responsible for staging a coup de grace against him.
The former prime minister has lamented that since the inception of Pakistan no elected prime minister has been able to complete his term. This is true but a number of prime ministers were ousted owing to his own shenanigans.
Better late than never… Sharif perhaps genuinely realises the follies he committed in the past. But old habits die hard. What is the guarantee that rank and file of his party, including his younger brother, will now purge itself?
So far as the military leadership is concerned, an overbearing establishment has virtually become a part of our political matrix. Hence it will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle merely through concerted dialogue.
The late Mao Zedong aptly said in a revolutionary context: political power emerges from the barrel of the gun. The military will not take a back seat merely out of politeness.
Only if the politicians deliver instead of merely squabbling there could be some hope for the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the armed forces to ultimately prevail in Pakistan. For now it is just a pipe dream.
Admittedly some progress has been made, as the military is no longer interested in overtly ruling post Musharraf’s disastrous misrule. That is why perhaps Sharif has the luxury of his party still being in power at the federal level and in Punjab, sans him of course.
Perhaps the ruling party under the aegis of younger brother Shahbaz Sharif should be preparing for the elections.
The GT road march was good for starters. However, invoking the martyr card and being in power as well seems not to have entirely worked. Hence the patchy crowd response alongside the rally route.
Sharif will have a lot of time at his Jati Umra abode to build political alliances and guide his party. At the same time as head of the family to mend the schisms within the Sharif clan so openly articulated by Shahbaz Sharif’s wife Tehmina Durrani.