Between claims of ‘hidden conspiracy’, ‘umpire’s finger’, and now ‘khalai makhlooq’, there is no confusion about the fact that PML(N) is in a state of war with State Institutions. In particular, the leadership of PML(N), epitomized in Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, are in direct conflict with the judiciary and the armed forces of Pakistan. This conflict is no longer simmering under the surface; it is no longer some hidden undertone of electoral rhetoric. The conflict is now blatant, ominous, and deeply disturbing. In fact – truth be told – it has the potential to unravel the entire fabric of our democratic paradigm.
We must accept this reality, without mincing our words. Because admitting the existence of this problem will be the first step towards finding some way to resolve it.
So, assuming that there is a deliberate (and partisan) conflict between Nawaz Sharif and our State institutions, three questions need answering: 1) What was the inception of this problem? 2) Who is to be blamed for it? and 3) How can it be resolved?
Starting at the beginning: When did this conflict come to fro? And who is to be blamed for it? Whenever the final chapter on this period in Pakistan’s history is written, a dispassionate observer will come to the unmistakable conclusion that ‘a line in the sand’ was drawn at the time of Dawn Leaks, in October of 2016. The true account of what happened in that ghastly episode has still not come to light (because PML(N) government has refused to release Raja Zafar-ul-Haq’s inquiry report), but even according to government’s own stance, the news item was fake. Not just that, the malicious reporting of the said item – as the lead story of one of Pakistan’s most respected newspapers – was meant only to undermine army’s role in the international/regional landscape. In fact, in the days that followed, the government deemed it a “breach of national security”. However, the truth about how it came about, who masterminded that story, how was it placed in the newspapers, and what was the real motive behind it, and why has the government still not released the inquiry report, is still a mystery. According to most of the whispered accounts of insiders, Maryam Safdar was at the heart of the entire episode. It is alleged that she masterminded this ‘national security breach’, and that the inquiry report has been kept a secret only to protect her.
The fact that this happened in the midst of Panama Leaks scandal, made matters worse. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the ‘establishment’ of Pakistan did not come up with Panama Leaks. They did not (and could not) orchestrate a world-wide scandal (involving several foreign dignitaries), just to be able to oust Nawaz Sharif. With all due respect, Nawaz Sharif is not so important in the global landscape, nor as powerful in the domestic paradigm, that an international conspiracy had to be hatched to remove him. But once the scandal broke in the international media, Pakistan’s establishment had to make a choice: whether to bail out Nawaz Sharif, or to allow the law and the Constitution to take its natural course. And being aggrieved of the (purposeful) national security breach, in Dawn Leaks, our Khaki command (wisely) decided not to interfere with judicial proceedings, or allow any NRO to Nawaz Sharif and his family.
In the circumstances, for some inexplicable reason, PML(N) leadership decided to ignore all reasonable advice (being rendered by the like of Chaudhary Nisar), and decided to up the ante in terms of conflict with State institutions. Instead of showing reverence to the Constitution and our legal processes, and defending the Panama case on its merits, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter decided to caste the entire Panama case as a conflict between judiciary and army on the one hand, and civilian supremacy on the other. Suddenly, the Constitution was dubbed as an enemy of democracy. Judiciary was dubbed as a weapon (used by the army) to rob people of their democratic mandate. Vote was pitted against the Constitution. And the story about how Nawaz Sharif’s children became multi-billionaires (without ever having held a real job) was transformed into a debate about civil-military imbalance. If you ask for money trail, you are a stooge of the army. If you condemn threatening speeches against the judiciary, you part of some conspiracy against the people. If you ask about financial corruption of our politicians, you are undemocratic.
This political narrative saw ridiculous becoming the norm. Khalai makhlooq (aliens) became a part of election campaigns. “Mujhe kiyo’n nikala” became a democratic outcry. The august court was reduced to “paanch log”. Chief Justice was chided as “Baba Rehmata”. Street thugs, like Nihal Hashmi, became heroes. And “Tumhe kiya?” became a viable defense for owning assets beyond lawful means.
Interestingly, throughout this time, the army has issued no partisan statement. It has consistently repeated its stance of ‘standing with the Constitution and law’. The harshest of its responses was perhaps the “silence is also a statement” comment.
After a year of political sloganeering, PML(N) has brought itself to a point of no return. It ignored the advice of seasoned political pundits within its ranks. The firebrand ideology of Maryam Safdar – egged on by the likes of Danyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhary, whose are only ‘ideological’ to the extent of their self-interest – has brought Nawaz Sharif to a point of no return. And his only option now, is to try and punch his way of out of this political situation.
“Politics is the art of finding a way forward”, Chaudhary Nisar proclaimed in his most recent press conference. “Politics is not a game of wrestling, where one party must necessarily pin the other into submission”, he added. But these words have fallen on deaf ears within the PML(N) think-tank. And there is no real hope of sanity prevailing in their partisan rhetoric.
This is difficult time in Pakistani politics. But it is most difficult for those who, despite being part of PML(N), are unable to knock (political) sense in to Nawaz Sharif and his daughter.
No one (from within the coterie) wants to be first person to tell the Emperor that he is not wearing any clothes. No wants to lie down in the path of steam-engine that has gone astray. But all those, within PML(N) ranks, who know the folly of Nawaz Sharif’s strategy, but have chosen to remain silent, are doing this nation a disservice.
It is time to speak truth to power. It is time for sane-minded PML(N) members to remind their ‘Quaid’ that his political career and personal wealth are not worth risking the legitimacy of constitutional paradigm. That Nawaz Sharif is just a man. And like all men, he cannot live or rule forever. That the entire nation should not have to pay price of his personal ambition. That his political career (the most enviable in our national history) has come to a close. And that there is grace in accepting this reality.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.