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Nawaz’s bitter harvest

Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif may like to believe that he is shining on like some crazy political diamond, but as things stand today, he is more like a mirror on to himself, reflecting back realities that are too hideous for him to acknowledge. Some of these realities about Nawaz Sharif are connected with his past, some with his present.

Last week on the Grand Trunk Road, he was charging forth Spartan-like as if the final battle was upon him; this week he is akin to a lazy horse, with slowed down stride and a demeanour that reflects more his age than his anger. His interview with BBC Urdu (what a choice of a medium for a man who wants to speak to Pakistanis!) was a lesson in the art of saying nothing. He was dodgy on facts, non-committal on substantive issues, and showed a remarkable reticence on subjects that he has been promising for years to speak his heart out on.

Of course, he spoke of conspiracy – as did everybody else from his core team days later on different forums. He mentioned Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf’s shenanigans, touched upon the seedy affairs of his trial, but kept to himself every knowable and vital detail of what he alleges is an elaborate plot to scuttle and sabotage civilian mandate in the country. In doing so he directly undermined his own word to his voter about unveiling his version of the reality, and came across as a man who has bitten more than he can chew.

Not that he does not have a story to tell. Anyone remotely connected with Pakistan’s universe of information can say with reasonable assurance of factual accuracy that Nawaz’s disqualification and the JIT aren’t simple legal affairs. There is a power push at work, which sometimes is so obvious that it is shocking more in its audacity than in its aims. But that is just a fragment, which does not complete the picture whose various frames are with Nawaz Sharif – who refuses to hang them on the wall of public knowledge.

The Nawaz camp calls it prudent restraint. That may be so but this prudence is also grounded in the realisation that everything that Nawaz believes happened to him had been caused in part by his own follies. There isn’t a single decision that impacted his four-plus years in power that he was not a party to. The most crucial aspect of Nawaz’s slide down to disqualification was his costly appeasement enterprise. At every step of the way down, he kept creating more space for the establishment to dominate decision-making and elbow him out completely from the policy formulation phase.

The most striking example of this was Nawaz’s outsourcing of the control of the war on terror. Steeped in the tradition of seeing everything in personalised terms, he went on a bizarre praise-spree of General Raheel Sharif and an unthinking endorsement of everything he did. We recall how the man with modest professional achievements was introduced to the nation as ‘the general of all generals’ – a phrase that was to come back to haunt Nawaz Sharif in the form of demands from Raheel Sharif that he should be made field marshal in recognition of his matchless services to the nation.

Zarb-e-Azb, a military operation in the limited confines of North Waziristan was turned into the silver bullet that could be used to shoot down every national trouble. Massive breaches of national security and tragedies like the APS massacre were left un-scrutinised and an image was allowed to be built that all faults lie with civilian governments and no one else was capable of making any error. The same happened in case of the National Action Plan, establishment of military courts, Rangers operations in Punjab and Karachi, the Chotu Gang bust, Balochistan’s affairs, the situation on the Line of Control and of course disturbing developments in Afghanistan and in relations with India.

Other than hold perfunctory cabinet meetings in Karachi over law and order, Nawaz Sharif let go of the initiative on every aspect of the full expanse of decision-making on security, foreign and defence policy. He did not find time or opportunity to visit a single Fata Agency bordering Afghanistan even though this remains the frontline of a make-or-break war the country has been fighting for decades now.

This trend of costly compliance and cowardly outsourcing of the reins of civilian authority, which picked up visibility with the understanding to let Gen Musharraf fly away, did not change throughout his tenure. General Raheel’s controversial job to serve the House of Saud and Pakistan’s association with an alliance that parliament had raised questions about was yet another self-inflicted wound. No less lethal was the saga of Dawnleaks, which Nawaz Sharif himself turned into a national crisis and ended up paying through the nose of his close associates. There was nothing in the news story that should have caused the whole the country security convulsions. If its facts were wrong – which the official version says they were – then it should have been trashed through a strongly-worded rebuttal. If it was a leak of information, simple administrative action to de-notify the source should have been taken.

But Nawaz did neither. He allowed and prepared an elaborate rope of a JIT to handle the issue, not realising that this JIT was to become a prototype of the JIT that was to snap and crack the neck of his tenure in power. Even after the change of command, Nawaz’s fawning, appeasing, pleasing, complaining and compromising ways did not alter. He kept on cutting himself at the knees, slice by slice, bone by bone, till he had no legs to stand on and only needed a push to fall.

Why did he not stem the slipping away of his authority when he knew that this was turning him into a doormat that anyone could step and stomp on? Bad advice, poor judgement and an even poorer reading of the consequences of his own decisions. But more than all these factors is his political history, which prevented him from acting like mandated civilian leaders ought to act when asserting their legitimate authority.

Nawaz has a big hangover of being an ex-Ziaist in terms of political orientation. The penchant for ‘settling issues’ rather than resolving them and wielding authority through back-room deals continues to be his preference. His contempt for asserting parliamentary authority is a direct result of the residual influence of the idea that elected power can be had and retained by silent manoeuvres and by paying constant homage to the deep state, of which he himself was once an integral political part.

His discovery of the fallacy of riding two boats in power has come about only after his disqualification. It is too early to say whether this realisation has come about too late in his career. He retains a formidable political advantage of being firmly entrenched in power through his party in the centre and in Punjab. Besides, in this day and age of digital disclosures, no regime-change plan can remain hidden for long. No amount of fake news can hedge real news. Plans hatched in silence always border on breaking out like jungle fires. Those who think otherwise have another thing coming. So it is a combination of his political cards and his gradual opening of the D-files (disqualification files) that Nawaz Sharif is relying on to careen out of troubled waters.

We will see how this pans out, but however it does Nawaz Sharif will never be able completely absolve himself of the mess he has landed himself and the country in. If only he had understood the value of his mandate earlier. If only he had acted like elected leaders ought to. If only he had shown spine, courage and genuine interest in building strong civilian institutions. If only he had done all of that, today he would have stood on a stronger moral ground to speak the truth.

Nawaz Sharif pretends as if he has been chucked out of power because he resisted too much. The fact is that he lost his seat because he conceded too much and bartered the sanctity of his office for mere day-to-day survival. A classic Faustian bargain.

Email: syedtalathussain@gmail.com Twitter: @TalatHussain12

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Syed Talat Hussain, "Nawaz’s bitter harvest," The News. 2017-08-21.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political aspects , Political relations , National action plan , Political advantage , Military operation , Parliament , Establishment , Politics , Nawaz Sharif , Gen Musharraf , Balochistan , India , APS , JIT