Another intriguing love affair | Pakistan Today

Another intriguing love affair

  • The ‘liberal’ love for Nawaz Sharif

This is not about the big fish: the NGO liberals, the ‘program’ liberals, the ‘activists’, etc, whose prosperity is closely linked with that of Nawaz Sharif. Or the celebrity liberal lawyers for that matter, with their deep concern for democracy and civilian supremacy surpassed only by the fee they have been charging the PML-N government (which, despite having the Attorney-General and a whole team of lawyers at its disposal, prefers to ‘employ’ these liberal ‘stars’, with the tab running into millions and millions being picked up by the taxpayer). Nothing like profit and answering the call of the conscience, both wrapped in one, is there? There’s hardly anything intriguing about their romance with Sharif.

Neither is this about the local correspondents for publications like the New York Times, who feel obliged to put a certain spin on everything, so both sides benefit from the arrangement: the newspaper by setting an agenda internationally that doesn’t necessarily have a real constituency locally, while Sharif by appearing internationally as the last bulwark against ‘anti-democracy’ forces. Nor is this about the journalists working for the local media who have found out by experience that selling ‘narratives’ that suit Sharif can be an extremely lucrative business. Nor is this about the men and women earning their salary as paid members of some media cell. And of course, this is not about the politicians, who stand to benefit if Sharif continues to be in power. There’s nothing intriguing about any of these groups’ love for the man.

This is about the layman: the enlightened soul, the opinionated student, the social-media crusader, the armchair constitutionalist, who believes Sharif to be synonymous with democracy. This demographic, for the most part, doesn’t get paid for its services; it does its campaigning for Sharif absolutely free-of-cost. These ideological souls are spurred on by little more than their conviction. The trouble is that many of them sound as if the world suddenly came into being in 2000. Reading not being among the strong suits of this nation, these intellectuals have reached the conclusion, without the benefit of the barest familiarity with history, that Sharif and civilian supremacy are interchangeable ideas. Their reading of the post-2000 events too remains, mainly, of the beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the- beholder variety. Nevertheless, their commitment is fascinating.

Some of our liberal friends are former PPP enthusiasts, who, faced with the somewhat unsatisfactory choices of heroes on offer in the post-Benazir era, decided that Sharif was their new hope

However, what takes a little bit away from this fascination is the fact that while these liberals don’t benefit materially from their tireless efforts, they are not exactly selfless. For in their circle of friends (and on the social-media) the stakes for the bragging-rights couldn’t be higher. Also, usually with precious little by way of real meaning in personal lives of most people, these rivalries assume serious importance: as the sole means of winning battles that can’t be won in any other realm. The flip side to it, however, is that it’s impossible for one to abandon one’s long-held stance without incurring a major penalty, which consists of a humiliating admission of one’s lapse of judgment, and mirth on the part of rivals, followed by periodical reminders of the same. Here, our armchair crusader is at a distinct disadvantage to the professional politician or journalist for whom any considerations apart from the monetary ones are rendered completely irrelevant.

Some of our liberal friends also double as political soothsayers, who have repeatedly predicted (on the social media, and to their friends) that Imran Khan is destined to be a failure in politics. Anything that so much as comes close to challenging this prophesy is especially disturbing, making them even more partial to Sharif. The common denominator of all liberals is their horror for anything that has anything to do with Khan. This is their great unifier. I have seen, and immensely enjoyed the spectacle of, liberal ladies and gentlemen literally foaming at the mouth on the mere mention of Khan.

Some of our liberal friends are former PPP enthusiasts, who, faced with the somewhat unsatisfactory choices of heroes on offer in the post-Benazir era, decided that Sharif was their new hope. These are especially innocent souls, whose desperation can be gauged by their adopting as their hero none other than Benazir’s nemesis, who – in addition to his many other lasting ‘contributions’ to Pakistani society – was the man responsible for PPP’s decline owing to the party leadership’s decision to emulate him in his money-making ways. The need for hero-worship being as deep-seated in the human psyche as it is, there have been many instances in history of adoption of false-heroes when real ones were not available; but arguably none as intriguing as this one.

As is the case with all sunk-cost scenarios, the more one has felt compelled to defend somebody in the past and on sillier positions, the harder it becomes to disassociate oneself from him in the future. Our liberal friends are therefore stuck having to defend Sharif for better or for worse. Some sins are certainly their own punishment.

Hasan Aftab Saeed

The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at