- The swallow that will make a summer?
Despite his best efforts, PML(N) President Shehbaz Sharif has been arrested by NAB in a money-laundering case, after the Lahore High Court rejected his pre-arrest bail petition on Monday. It was perhaps owing to the persistence of the prosecutors, but it also seems clear that the attempts by Mr Sharif to paper over his brother and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz’s outburst against the establishment, did not work. Though Mian Shehbaz leading an anti-government movement would probably have meant him containing it as far as possible, he is now going to sit out some of it, perhaps all of it, while in jail. The arrest does mean that if any leader was still sitting on the fence, he or she has now been shown that moderation does not act as a talisman against arrest. Another consequence will be that the PML(N), one of the two major parties in the opposition, will now look entirely to Vice-President Mariam Nawaz during the movement, which will culminate in March. She is against her uncle Shehbaz’s policy of reconciliation, believing that it is only by confrontation that Mian Nawaz can be brought back.
Another aspect that will bother the opposition is the possibility that this is merely the first of many arrests in their ranks, meant to disrupt the forthcoming movement. It is still not clear whether NAB is once again the flavor-of-the-month for the government when it wants to ‘fix’ opposition figures, or whether Shehbaz’s arrest was merely a bit of ‘unfinished business’, but even the Opposition will concede that, believer in reconciliation though he is, its leader’s arrest even before the start of any movement, is a serious dampener. If leaders begin to run scared, or if they are put behind bars, how will the ordinary worker react?
The only positive the arrest might yield is that it may perk up the spirits of those workers preparing for a movement in the backdrop of meetings between their leaders and the military. The meetings, and the policy of reconciliation, do not safeguard anything, so there is no point in moderation. The PTI may not like a movement carried on by workers convinced of this. As the PTI insists on running the opposition into the ground, it might find this policy counter-productive.