Nawaz Sharif is a battered man. Isn’t that enough to explain the beans he’s spilled in his latest interview. Except they weren’t exactly the beans they are being made out to be, nor is Sharif talking about them for the first time.
The political parties’ response — or belligerent condemnation — is almost unanimous. Interestingly, this includes his own party. It may be deflecting attention and spreading confusion but is definitely not owning up to what the elder Sharif has rather clearly implied in the interview.
Does this mean that Nawaz Sharif apart from being battered is also an isolated man?
He claims he was not allowed to govern freely in his most recent term. His narrative is not too unfamiliar; each civilian government has made similar charges after being thrown out of power in the last thirty or so years. Even Chaudhry Shujaat, the stalwart of the quintessential king’s party PML-Q, has alleged how his party was not allowed to come into power in 2008 in his recent autobiography.
But back to the Sharif narrative: He was ousted from the prime minister’s house on a ‘flimsy’ charge of corruption when in reality it is his ideology of civilian supremacy that did not sit well with the country’s military establishment. As things stand, not only has he been disqualified from holding a public office, a subsequent interpretation by the superior courts holds that the disqualification shall last for life. Not just that, Nawaz Sharif cannot be the head of his own party, PML-N, a party that has carried on under his name for about three decades now.
At age 68, Nawaz Sharif’s political fortune is foretold. Yet, no serious analyst can doubt that he uttered the words accidentally. Thrice prime minister, he would not say anything he doesn’t want to, no matter how smart a journalist he is facing. So, he clearly had a purpose in saying what he did; his subsequent insistence on the veracity of his views only affirms this.
With the allegations of treason flowing around and Sharif demanding no less than a national commission to sift truth from fiction, it appears the interview will impact the country’s politics, the impending election and of course the fate of the party he had meant to always lead. In fact, how the party is affected as a consequence will shape our politics in a major way.
The civilian middle class and elite in Punjab that is so strongly invested in choosing PML-N at the time of election is said to hold the name of Nawaz Sharif very dear to their hearts. The street logic in Punjab largely goes, or at least used to go, like this: the doer chief minister could do all that he wants to but ‘Vote Nawaz Da’ [the vote belongs to Nawaz].
Thus, isolated and pushed to the wall, a solitary figure except the daughter standing by him, the elder Sharif has made sure he stays relevant. But is he only venting his anger in the manner of a Lahori street boy whose approach, in the words of a senior analyst, is “Na khaidaan ge na Khaidan dyan ge” [Will neither play nor let anyone play]?
Disqualified, without a party, he probably is trying to fire his last salvo, with the aim of projecting his daughter as the real heir to his brand of politics, thereby rejecting the decisions about the party he was forced to make recently.
A rift within the family is there for everyone to notice. Taken aback by the contents of the interview, the party tried to confuse the issue so that people forgot who said what. Conflicting responses came with the younger brother and party president saying the newspaper presented a distorted view of former prime minister’s statement and the former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar explaining in a presser how the delay in Mumbai attacks inquiry owed itself to India’s non-cooperation.
It is the Shahbaz Sharif-Chaudhry Nisar duo that is holding the party reins, wanting the elder Sharif to lie low for a while and let them handle the situation till it gets better. It could be read as the minus-one formula, now all too familiar to Pakistani politics. But it clearly is not something acceptable to Mian Nawaz Sharif who does not want to go down in history with the tag of a ‘corrupt politician’ who got disqualified for life.
This is not how he would like to end his career.
This then is his last chance to tell his voters and the world at large that he was removed because of the central conflict in this country — the civil military rift — which ailed his four years in office. Analysts point out how he was forced to oust a few of his aides and ministers, Mushahidullah Khan in 2015 and Pervaiz Rashid at the time of Dawn Leaks to name just two, at the behest of the military. As prime minister, he claims to have spent more than a year under pressure on the matter of then army chief Raheel Sharif’s extension.
His election promise of peace with India was not allowed fruition, just as President Zardari’s plans were laid to rest in the last PPP government. Some think the civilian government kept trying and managed to file an FIR in Gujranwala against the four alleged
perpetrators of the Pathankot airbase attack in India in February 2016.
Nawaz Sharif would rather be known as a shaheed [a martyr], who went fighting for civilian supremacy. He is also addressing the world at large and wants it to see him as the “sympathiser of world narrative” on Pakistan. His timing to sell this alternative narrative, so close to the election and at cross-purposes with his own party, is crucial. It can make or break him. He does not have much to lose anyway.