MYSTERIOUS visit of Sharif brothers to Saudi Arab spawned a raft of speculations. Its array was wide and wild. First and foremost was of a deal, commonly known as NRO for self-preservation. Mainly its upshot was refuge and escape from fast approaching arm of accountability. Two things lent credence to what was thrown in air. One, an upbeat, buoyant and brisk Shahbaz Sharif, mounting on a specially dispatched royal aircraft. Two, a precedent of deal in case of Sharif family under auspices of Saudi royal family, about two decades ago. Given circumstances, both held no water.
In December 2000, a deal was signed between Sharif family and Musharraf’s government at bidding of Kingdom of Saudi Arab however, there was no dearth of critics who alleged that it was basically former US President, Bill Clinton who wanted to bail out Nawaz Sharif in hour of his ordeal. He asked Saudi royal family to arrange relief. Probably this care was taken to avoid public backlash because being custodian of Holy Mosques, they were held in high esteem widely among Pakistani people nevertheless, this arrangement suited to all parties involved. The deal allowed Nawaz Sharif.to live in exile in Saudi Arab for ten years along with his family. In return, he was obliged not to indulge himself in political activities of any kind during stipulated period. Though it raised many eyebrows however, government argued that this has been done in best interests of the country and people of Pakistan. In 2000, relationship between government of Musharraf and US was estranged.
The deal might have been considered an opportunity to ease tension. On top of this, probably it was difficult for government to say no to Saudi royal family for host of reasons; relative diplomatic isolation, age old greater ties of respect and cordiality and economic overdependence on Kingdom of Saudi Arab etc. Internally a Nawaz Sharif in prison was considered more problematic politically than an inactive Nawaz Sharif in exile for government, sought through a deal under humiliating terms and conditions. Characteristically this aspect might have played a role to cook the deal. No opposition from political parties was expected as almost all political parties including PML (N) constituted main opposition against the government. Media was small and assumed to act softly. At present, situation is diametrically different.
Trump has no love lost for Nawaz Sharif. Possibly his indifference is universal because of his characteristic personality traits albeit our ruling elite is doing its best to catch his eyes. Because of emerging new dynamics in mutual relationship with Pakistan, Saudi Arab would prefer not to demand anything which could tax Pakistan. Internally it is a defining moment. We have travelled a long distance. In process, on name of democracy, our ruling elite has robbed the nation mercilessly. Economically we are in a sinkhole. Institutionally we are in disarray. Education, healthcare and other civic facilities are almost extinct. Corruption is at vertex. Inevitably, we have to suffer all this before overhauling darkest hour of the night. It was the price, we had to pay for innocence, gullibility and stagnation of hapless people. In tug and pull, to our good luck, truth has not only survived but also marched to a position from where it could break out. Dawn is within striking distance. No one who have toiled hard, would like the chance to slip away. NRO would definitely provide breather to dying ruling elite.
Judiciary is in a mood to pay back. Its landmark decision to disqualify Nawaz Sharif has opened the floodgates. Previous NRO was annulled by Supreme Court, being legally untenable. New one may be just a case of summary disposal. Since over a decade, Armed Forces are fighting nonstop on many fronts; terrorism, militancy, gruesome crimes, frequent escalations at Line of Control/Working Boundary, standing up to Do More of USA, Indian intrigues, provision of infrastructure/rehabilitation of IDPs, security of CPEC, relief works and active support in works of national necessity etc. They are on SOS call. These tasks are much beyond their designation. They have done it because other institutions were dysfunctional or incapable. They have given sweat and blood in plenty. Prudently they would not like that this goes in vain. Only way forward is move forward. Their constant conduct is its index. NRO would be retrogressive.
Latest manifestation is statement of COAS on New Year “a momentous year was over. Year 2018 is of immense significance for Pakistan internally and externally with monumental challenges. These are convertible into opportunities. Part we have done, remaining we can and shall do together, Inshaa Allah. Nothing can defeat the spirit of Pakistan”. Imran Khan has been main moving force to bring struggle against corrupt ruling elite thus far. His electoral success seems imminent. He vows to oppose any divisionary move with tooth and nail. His vow is not empty because he symbolizes yearnings and aspirations of people. Media is vibrant and effective. It acts like a watchman of troubled day and night. It will not let any contra step sail through easily. Civil Society is also equally watchful. In midst of such environments, uneventful return of both Sharif was a foregone conclusion.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.