Remaining Alive In History Or Living Longer? The Choice Is Yours, Mian Sahib
Pakistani public and large segment of intelligentsia see Nawaz Sharif as the name of the path that could put an end to this machination and manipulation of the system by military establishment, writes Umer Farooq.
Musharraf regime would have collapsed much earlier if Nawaz Sharif had decided to serve his jail sentence instead going abroad as part of a written deal with the military government, some of the Muslim Leaguers at that time believed strongly. Well, that might seem an exaggeration in face of initial five years of economic affluence that the military regime brought to the middle classes in urban areas of Pakistan.
Many of the political commentators think that this would certainly be true about PTI government whose initial years hardly show any signs of economic affluence for the middle classes of Punjab. This time Nawaz Sharif going abroad for health reasons is primarily seen as a relief to the Imran Khan government and his backers in the establishment.
Nawaz Sharif’s jail sentence was giving them sleepless nights. The poor performance of Imran Khan’s government coupled with cracks in the establishment and increasing economic hardships for the common man were the factors that were causing the resurgence in the popularity of Nawaz Sharif in central Punjab—the area which is traditionally considered a stronghold of Nawaz Sharif and a recruiting ground for Pakistani land forces.
There are reports about some invisible hands are pressurizing the Sharif family to stay away from Islamabad protests. Or maybe the pressure was from within the family that Maryam Nawaz Sharif should not go to Islamabad to address the protestors. The invisible or not so invisible hands were not ready to take another fiery speech from Maryam Nawaz Sharif repeating the same anti-establishment rhetoric that has become her trademark. Sharif family seemed to have succumbed to the pressure.
In Pakistan’s political history, feudal class has acted more defiantly towards power that be than the upper classes of urban areas. If you have any doubts about this assertion, compare the attitudes of Bhutto family—with a Sindhi feudal background—and Sharif family—with an upper class industrialist background from central Punjab.
When Bhutto was hanged his sons—Shahnawaz and Murtaza–escaped the country and formed a Kabul based organization to Al-Zulifiqar to fight the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. For Nawaz Sharif’s sons his jail sentence on flimsy grounds during military regime of Musharraf could not have been business as usual as one of them was kept in Attock Fort with his father. Later the whole family escaped the country and continued to live a life of luxury in London.
Benazir Bhutto—a feudal as far as her socio-economic background is concerned who can rightly be described as the princess of the hearts of Pakistani people—spent years in oppressive military regime’s jail but refused to make a compromise with the Zia regime. Nawaz Sharif spent years in exile after reaching an understanding with the military regime, in the safety of Saudi Palaces. But he was lucky enough to survive his own mistake and bounced back into politics just about the time when the military government was on his way out.
Nawaz Sharif is now seriously ill and his family is pressurizing him to go abroad for treatment without delay. The family has applied for relaxation of Exit Control List to the Interior Ministry. Will Pakistani public see this as a deal with the government or the military establishment? Will Nawaz Sharif survive this mistake of his? Difficult to tell at this stage, but certainly Pakistan’s political culture awards those who have an anti-establishment tendency, not those who cuts deal with the establishment.
There is a very peculiar feature of American political life that all those first ladies who could have exerted political influence or other types of influence on their husbands were greatly disliked by American public. Hence Hillary Clinton—a political heavy weight herself—had the lowest rating among American public as first lady. The First Lady, in recent times, who had the highest acceptance rating was Barbara Bush—the wife of President George Bush Senior—as she was perceived as a simple house wife who could not have exerted any type of influence on her husband as First Lady. This point has relevance to Nawaz Sharif’s situation.
Now the trust that is bestowed on Nawaz Sharif—on any other popular leader in Pakistan—is a trust that is given to him as an individual public figure. This trust is not given to his sons, daughter wife or any other person close to him. It can’t be that the trust is given to Nawaz Sharif and the fruit of that trust is being used by his sons, who are businessmen. The person on whom this public trust is bestowed must act in honest fashion to fulfill his responsibility as a trustee. It can’t be that the fruit of that trust goes into serving the business interests of trustee’s family.
Secondly and related to first point is the fact that the person who is the trustee of this huge public trust cannot act or cannot be treated as an ordinary mortal by those around him. Nawaz Sharif is seriously ill, however, his family cannot take the decision of taking him out of the country the way you take a decision about the health of an ordinary mortal, who has financial strength to go abroad.
Decisions about his health, his going abroad should and must be taken in the light of huge trust that is given to him by the people of Pakistan.
The country’s recent political situation and development point toward huge machinations to manipulate the political system of the country. Pakistani public and large segment of intelligentsia see Nawaz Sharif as the name of the path that could put an end to this machination and manipulation of the system by military establishment. The moment Sharif family takes the person Nawaz Sharif out of the country—while exerting an undue influence on his person who is a trustee of public trust—the path Nawaz Sharif, for putting an end to machinations of the military establishment, will be closed forever.
The person Nawaz Sharif may as a result live ten years longer but the path Nawaz Sharif will die the moment person Nawaz Sharif will step out of the country. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Nawaz Sharif going abroad like this is in fact happening as a part of manipulation of the system.
I have toured whole of Punjab—central, South and western Punjab and I live in Northern Punjab—three times since 2013 parliamentary elections. Honestly and objectively I can tell you that Nawaz Sharif has no match in Central Punjab among the existing political leaders in terms of popularity. You come across people who have emotionally attached to Benazir Bhutto or her father. But they are mostly 70 plus in age.
But Nawaz Sharif’s following is across all age groups. In the years following Panama verdict by Supreme Court Nawaz Sharif has galvanized and mobilized his support base in Central Punjab. This support base is now emotionally charged and political mobilized after immensely poor performance of Imran Khan government. Just imagine how distributed this lot will be if person Nawaz Sharif is taken out of the country under the undue influence of his family and to take the establishment off the hook.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.