Monday, September 27, 2010 – Mian Nawaz Sharif (MNS) has finally lost his traditional cool not only because he has ceased his confidence in the PPP leadership but also perhaps hawks in his kitchen Cabinet have ultimately persuaded him that enough is enough. These firebrand orators have been suggesting to the MNS that the Party must come out with a categorical stance over what they consider the shocking failure of the “corrupt Government” that has put the ongoing democratic system at stake. Otherwise too, some ground realities have forced MNS to come out of his so-called reconciliatory groove including, inter alia, the crucial issues facing the country such as fast crumbling economy, controversial war on terror, worsening law and order situation which has resulted in mob justice, brute target killings in Karachi and Balochistan, sky-rocketing prices, shortage of essential commodities, widespread corruption and extremely bad governance. These negative developments have caused acute despondency among the people and, therefore, MNS too is getting disillusioned. MNS, after all, is perceived as a politician, who genuinely feels for the people and State of Pakistan.
MNS is a well-intentioned political elitist and it is because of his track record in the previous two stints in the 1990s, when he, by and large, performed well and delivered. He took a series of positive initiatives and hard decisions which were crowned on 28th May, 1998 as he withstood the world pressure and gave a ‘go ahead’ to Dr. A.Q. Khan-led scientists to conduct nuclear tests in line with the aspirations of the people. It was on this very day that a towering and defiant Nawaz Sharif emerged on the horizon and that explosive decision still influences his overall thinking and it will continue to be a factor in his decision-making capabilities till the day he quits politics.
MNS also learned a lot from the political turbulent events of 1990s and that is why now he believes that democratic process must move on. He is now aware of the reality that short and long marches, shutter-down strikes and re-enactment of musical chairs drama ultimately harms the democratic process and that rules of the game should be observed strictly for the sake of democracy. It was in this perspective that he authorized the second tier leadership of PML-N to enter into negotiations with the PPP in the cool environment of the UK which successfully culminated in signing of the historic agreement between him and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in London on May 14, 2008, which is commonly known as “Charter of Democracy” CoD. It is also widely referred to in the present-day politics of the country as a sort of Magna Charta. Under the CoD, the two Parties committed to struggle jointly against dictatorship and on coming to power do away with the ‘distortions’ made in the Constitution after the overthrow of the PML-N Government in October 1999. But what MNS was not aware of was that at the very time when the leadership of the two major political Parties was congratulating each other on the “historic achievement”, the late PPP leader, who indeed was a shrewd politician and a tactician, was also in touch with General Pervez Musharraf and his confidants on a regular basis!
Unaware of behind-the-scene developments and understanding, Mian Sahib continued to display sincerity and extended hand of cooperation to the PPP by signing the Bhurban Declaration with the PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari on 8th March 2008 under which the two Parties resolved to form a coalition government for giving a practical shape to the mandate, which was given to the democratic forces by the people of Pakistan in the general election of 18th February 2008. But the PML-N’s partnership with the PPP at the Centre did not last long as the latter did not honour the commitment of restoration of deposed judges within 30 days of the accord. Everyone lauded the principled stand of Mian Nawaz Sharif on this critical issue. Later he led the Long March towards Islamabad which, coupled with an advisory call from Rawalpindi, resulted in the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and brother judges on 16th March 2009. Now in the ongoing so-called row between the Apex Court and the Executive MNS has put all of his weight at the back of the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
Throughout the past two and a half years MNS displayed his sincerity to strengthen the democracy despite manoeuvres by the PPP leadership that led to the disqualification of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif on 25th February 2009 from contesting elections. The PML-N Government in the Punjab was dismissed after the verdict which was delivered by Abdul Hameed Dogar-led Supreme Court in order to pave the way for the PPP to form the Government there. Despite that, for a greater good of the system, Mian Sahib displayed remarkable patience and maturity which were not reciprocated in real terms though the President visited Raiwind by helicopter on 19th June 2008 amidst media galore and smiling gestures. These gestures were misunderstood by Mian Sahib as a change of heart or a new beginning by the PPP. Also, Nawaz Sharif never reacted bitterly despite creation of repeated impediments by Mr. Zardari’s points man in the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who never loses any opportunity to lash out, justifiably or unjustifiably, at the Punjab Government and its otherwise hard-working Chief Minister, who is rightly considered to be a good role-model Administrator.
Now there are not only visible cracks in this relationship but the PML-N Quaid has finally decided, and rightly so, to take up the role of a genuine Opposition Leader. That was clearly reflected in his statements of 16th and 19th September 2010 that the Party would not protect the government corruption and that democratic means could be used to unseat the Government if it did not mend its ways. There was a clear message that while the PML-N was willing to stand by democracy, the PPP will have to make efforts to offer people what they expect and bring an end to corruption and deliver. As for his commitment to democracy, while talking to writers and columnists on 18th September, MNS was categorical that any change of Government must be according to the Constitution.
I think that is how Mian Sahib should have done from day one because as a result of friendly Opposition, the Government got completely a free hand and State institutions as well as Pakistan became weak. Had the PML-N demonstrated the constitutional and constructive role of a genuine Opposition taking on the Government on every issue, the situation today would have been different altogether. If I may say, such a stance of the PML (N) can legally be termed as abetment with the Government which is a cognizable offence.
I recall my many meetings with MNS but for the purpose of this column, I would briefly mention my two detailed meetings with Mian Sahib at Qasr-e-Saroor in Jeddah while he was in exile. I take the credit of having persuaded MNS to send Mian Shahbaz Sharif to Pakistan to lead the Party instead of Begum Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif because Shahbaz Sharif, due to his several virtues of head and heart, was acceptable to all those who matter. I had also almost succeeded in making Mian Sahib agree to my formula of rapprochement of Mians and Chaudhrys but this is not the subject of my comments today, so I will not go into details. What I want to say is that during one of these meetings with MNS, I sensed the inbuilt mistrust between PML and PPP when the issue was thoroughly discussed and he was quite bitter of the betrayals of the PPP. He was in agreement with me when I said that this bitterness and mistrust between the PPP and the PML (N) was like the relations between Pakistan and India in which the composite dialogue, a string of various level meetings, and CBMs were always talked about and this would continue to be like that but the trust-deficit between the two neighbours will remain forever.
I think Mian Sahib has now come to the conclusion once again that the PPP is not sincere and the mistrust is visible, clear and loud. This mistrust was bound to come to the surface and I predict that the gap between the two Parties would further widen in the days to come. If the PML-N Quaid expected to get a smooth return after the next elections, then may I ask him why the PPP wanted to launch Bilawal Bhutto Zardari into active politics in Birmingham on 7th August 2010? The purpose was to attract voters in the name of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed for her son in the next general election.
If I may also indirectly hint that the arrest of Mr Sohail Zia Butt, a close relation of MNS, on 1st September 2010 by NAB officials on charges of embezzlement of millions of rupees should not be taken as an end in itself as there could be many more such embarrassing developments in store for Mian Sahib when the political temperature goes high in the days to come.
Anyhow, now when Mian Nawaz Sharif has categorically stated that his Party would not give blanket support to the PPP, the question arises what would happen after that? In my opinion, the PML-N Quaid after withdrawing support and going critical against the PPP will regain some lost ground by reflecting the sentiments and aspirations of the people. But still a very vital question remains and that is whether he will succeed in getting a clear majority in the elections without the unification of the Muslim Leagues and without giving up the habit of undue criticism of those domestic and foreign forces which influence the affairs of Pakistan?