How Sharif’s attitude resulted in a serious political crisis
Statecraft, they say, is an art known to very few and Nawaz Sharif is certainly not one of them. Every time he finds himself in the seat of power, he somehow manages to put himself in a situation where a whirlwind of crises aided by the lack of his political acumen get the better of him. As the record reflects, Sharif’s previous two tenures as the prime minister of this country were marred by ordinary performance and inglorious ends.
Pakistan’s short but dynamic political history has had many displays of street power, but never before has it seen thousands of people sitting in the heart of the capital for so long with one basic demand: removal of the government. Nawaz Sharif, to the surprise of many, won a comfortable majority in national assembly in elections last year and became, what ideally could have been, a very strong prime minister. Although the allegations of rigging sowed the initial seeds of trouble for the Sharif government, it was not without Sharif’s own ingenious moves that his government has been considerably weakened today and his tenure is on the brink of another unpopular demise. If the protesters of Pakistani Tehreek-e- Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek, now out in streets in all major cities across the country, succeed in building enough pressure to show the curtains to Sharif, he will set a new record by having a premature end to his tenure for the third time.
But how did he manage to get into this situation again? The transition from the confident, victorious and glowing Nawaz Sharif who made the victory speech on the election night last year to the dejected, apologist and dim Nawaz Sharif who addressed the nation two days before independence day, has actually been a result of more factors than it seems.
Pakistan’s short but dynamic political history has had many displays of street power, but never before has it seen thousands of people sitting in the heart of the capital for so long with one basic demand: removal of the government.
It was on 19th May 2013, a week after the elections, that Imran Khan from his hospital bed demanded the audit of four constituencies for the first time. On 19th June 2013, Khan made his first speech in the national assembly and repeated the demand of auditing the four constituencies. It did not need a mentalist to decipher what was actually going through the stubborn Khan’s mind when he tersely congratulated the speaker of national assembly that day. “Congratulations, Mr Speaker” he said, in hindsight meaning “I won’t let you get away with it”. Khan and members of his party kept repeating the demand for days to follow. On 2nd August 2013, PTI released its lengthily white paper on alleged rigging in polls, reinforcing its demand of an investigation of ‘election fraud’. For a whole year, Imran Khan continued to repeat the same demand through talk shows on TV, press conferences and other public appearances. On December 18th 2013, he again made a speech in the national assembly, now in a sterner tone with an annoyed look on his face, repeating his “reasonable demand” of probe into those four constituencies, making it clear that PTI was not ready to back out from its demand. But Nawaz Sharif, knee-deep in passiveness and serenity as usual, did not pay heed to him. Then, on May 11, 2014, exactly one year after the elections, PTI held a well-attended rally on D-chowk in Islamabad and announced to launch a nation-wide series of rallies until its demands were met. Subsequently, rallies and protests were organised in different cities to build up the pressure and the demand was still the same: audit of four constituencies. An opposition leader voted by 7.5 million voters asking for a constitutional demand to be met was something that would have been attended to seriously anywhere else in the world.
PTI, seemingly, had had enough and this was when the heresy about “long march” started to surface. A rally in Bahawalpur was scheduled for late June where, it was said, the PTI chairman would announce a march on the capital. However, a blessing in disguise for Nawaz Sharif came in the announcement of the military operation in North Waziristan, which made PTI call off its Bahawalpur jalsa.
And then entered the firm, unbending, law-abiding brother of the prime minister into the picture. Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab police, in an utter display of insanity, fired at the protesters outside Minhaj ul Quran secretariat on 17th June, taking 15 lives. That fateful day was the game-changer of many sorts. PTI rescheduled its Bahwalpur jalsa to announce the long march and Tahir ul Qadri announced his arrival on an earlier date with his potential revolution now fueled by the blood of his workers. Both parties would later march towards capital on the same day against the Sharif government, resulting in the deadlock that we are facing today.
Ahmed Quraishi, a prominent Islamabad-based journalist, thinks that the present crises are nothing less than an “indictment of the Sharif government”. Talking to Pakistan Today, he said that Nawaz Shairf “failed to unite the country after elections, which is the basic task of any government”. Quraishi deemed Imran Khan’s demand of investigating some constituencies “not only rightful but also constitutional” but Sharif “kept using delaying tactics for as long as he could and only announced to make the inquiry commission when it was too late”.
As facts suggest, this is a mess of Sharifs’ own making. The basic problem is that Nawaz Sharif has not been able to grow as a statesman over the years.
Quraishi believes that Nawaz Sharif has now become a PM who is severely weakened. Not only politically damaged but also less-liked by the armed forces now. Nawaz according Qureshi will be a “lame duck prime minister who can be compared to Afghanistan’s Karzai”. When asked about a possible end to the prevailing political crisis, Qureshi said it will either be an end of the political career of Qadri and Khan or Nawaz Sharif’s government.
However, some optimists are still hopeful for a win-win situation. “Although the situation is hardening with every passing minute, we are still hopeful for a solution”, said Qamar Zaman Kaira of PPP, who was also endorsed by Imran Khan for negotiations. Talking to Pakistan Today, Qaira hoped to reach “an agreement that will be acceptable to all parties”.
As facts suggest, this is a mess of Sharifs’ own making. The basic problem is that Nawaz Sharif has not been able to grow as a statesman over the years. His vindictiveness, cowardice and autocratic tendencies still bar him from taking politically rational steps. He, seemingly to this day, has not been able to understand that the ‘80s are over and he is no more protected by a military dictator. The increased level of institutionalisation and the presence of newer political forces do not allow him, or any other premier for that matter, to turn a deaf year to a legitimate demand for so long. Neither can his younger brother continue to be unanswerable for excessive use of state power, like old times.
With Khan and Qadri not ready to settle for anything less than Nawaz Sharif’s resignation and the prime minister negating any possibilities of stepping down, how long this deadlock will persist is anybody’s guess. Whatever the outcome, Nawaz Sharif’s attitude and his mistakes have cost him a lot already. Even if not dethroned, Sharif will be a king whose crown will now have far lesser pearls.