So, Nawaz Sharif has decided to fight on and not give up on the attachments that put him at the head of Pakistan and Punjab’s largest political party. He may be a man in dire straits, in the dock for acts he has been unable to explain in the last 18 months since the Panama leaks made an appearance. He now stands disqualified by Pakistan’s highest court, barring him from a formal political position.
Yet he fights on, holding onto the mantle like dear life. Could this be his final stand before his over three decades of investment in politics goes waste? Apparently, he has no choice – having missed opportunities to redeem himself with options that came along the way. Iceland’s prime minister, also maligned and forced to resign in the aftermath, is back in the saddle after 18 months in a re-election.
No, it is not ideology – as Nawaz is wont to claim these days – that eggs him on, nor the fight to ensure the sanctity of the democratic process or the vote that people vest in him, rather the impulse to avenge an unexpected turn of events in his personal fortune. His moral cover has stood badly exposed. Sadly, his battles are becoming very personalised. His party desperately hopes that he will help save the party and its eminent role in Pakistani politics by appointing an alternate head, his brother, under whom not only should the party complete the remaining portion of their tenure in government but also prepare to enter the 2018 elections in a settled state.
NS is equally egged on by some elements and their vocal support to fight on against what is considered the amorphous face of the establishment, a combination of the military, bureaucracy and judiciary, which to them is the hidden hand of a conspiracy that de-seated him. Politics in Pakistan has increasingly become a synonym for confrontation – preferably against the military, or hidden hands and powers that be when we are careful, anti-democratic illusions in popular parlance standing in the way of civilian supremacy.
Politics hardly now conjures visions of idealism or the deeper meaning of public service. It remains about power. That is the dilemma in the Pakistani brand of politics. I have quoted Harold Laski, an early 20th century thought-leader and professor of economics and political science at the London School of Economics, so often on democracy that paraphrasing him should suffice, when he says that democracy as a project can only succeed if the fruits of this labour are equally shared among all – those who are empowered and those whose vote empowers them.
Without this two-way return in the system, democracy is never institutionalised and fails to develop a sustainable constituency of support. That is when all other models of governance begin to rear their head. Be it dictatorship or a technocratic hue, or a hybrid. After all, this is what haunts most as Pakistan is buffeted by another failure of a nominally democratic government. Democracy has suffered under Mian Sahib’s watch.
So then what options does he have? He is in the dock and if precedence was any guide and the law was to be applied as it should, he probably will stand convicted and sentenced. The sentence may be, and can be, repealed by presidential pardon but the conviction will stand. Which will mean that the politics part of NS’ life will be no more other than in the background. Can the conviction be repealed? That is where in all probability he is currently aiming at, though this will need a constitutional amendment either limiting the period of punishment, or conviction, or both, or aim to amend the powers of the president to waive off a conviction in a set of mitigating circumstances which could be easily built into the legislation. Could he or his party pass it by their colleagues in parliament on the both sides? Even if Imran Khan and his PTI were to stand against any such scheme of reprieve, others, with appropriate inducement could acquiesce. And a wish could become a reality. Is this what NS is aiming for and fighting for; and trying to keep politically alive and relevant to benefit from just such an opportunity?
The refrain that he propounds is of having been hard done by judicially, or the din on conspiracy, or of being punished for yet untried crimes, or the perpetual lament of institutional confrontation, or that he and his family have always been cut-short by the powers that be – all the while crying for sticking to the law and keeping the constitution supreme and ensuring the democratic framework. This is all meant to enforce a perception that come the time to gain a reprieve, even from a conviction, following necessary processes and amendments, will become readily acceptable by the masses at large. That may be a long shot, but that is what he is hedging his bets on.
Were it to succeed, what credibility will the entire gamut imbue? How will the enactment of such legislative facilitation impact the politics or its perception among the people? Given how successfully Imran Khan has been able to play into people’s psyche, the notion of impropriety of pelf and power while triggering a popular aversion to such disposition will mean that any attempt in parliament towards such legislation – as playing around with the notion of an Ehtesab Commission, when cases of both NS and some PPP stalwarts are under trial – will render the entire legislative and parliamentary processes a farce. It will hit at the core and credibility of the edifice around which the stability of the state is measured. Before such a dismal end to state structures, the judiciary is likely to act as the ultimate arbiter to foil such unethical manipulation. If NS somehow sneaks through the evolving gauntlet, he will have to battle his return at each level, against all institutions and against massive public opinion. This can only start a surer slide further down the abyss.
And if he fails, Pakistan, its institutions and its structures, and politics may survive, but NS and the PML-N will be no more as we have known them. The cadres and mid-tier leadership that sits on the fence today will be the first to decamp. The party may splinter and those who wish to survive such tumult with a political future may then congregate under a different nomenclature and a different head. This is the flip side of the high-stake game that Mian Sahib is playing. Maybe that is exactly how he wants it. History will be free to judge him. But his people, his political investment, his progeny and his legacy will have suffered no ends.
Shahzad Chaudhry, "Paralysis of political thought," The News. 2017-11-03.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Panama leaks , Political position , Politics-Pakistan , Corruption , Accountability , Bureaucracy , Judiciary , Nawaz Sharif , Imran Khan , Pakistan , PTI , PMLN