Raja Arsalan Khan

Many families enjoying deep-rooted social clout have been dominating the political scene in Pakistan. Whether it is the military rule or democratic setup, they are everywhere - in every grouping and political party. They change their slogans from time to time, as demanded by the circumstances because they do not hesitate being part of the power echelons to sustain and strengthen their status.

Yet, the main target of the ongoing debate on family politics is the PML-N because of its leadership - Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif. It is claimed that it is necessary to get rid of the two for bringing about the ‘much needed’ change. Besides, the ‘difference of opinion’ between the two brothers on major issues is in the limelight. This piece, however, is not aimed at trying to figure out ‘why’, as it attempts to compare the two brothers with seemingly different attitude and point of views on several issues.

One can easily notice that the equation between the two brothers is nothing new in Pakistan, as it started with Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his sister Fatima Jinnah, who stood side by side during the Independence Movement. But their role did not end on August 14, 1947. Sadly, Pakistan lost the Quaid on September 11, 1948, but Fatima Jinnah contested against the state’s first military dictator, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, in the controlled presidential elections in 1964.

Another example is of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mir Mumtaz Bhutto, the talented cousin who went on to serve as the Governor and Chief Minister of Sindh during the PPP government in the 1970s.

When it comes to Nawaz Sharif, it is quite clear that he is very accommodative and believes in traditional courtesy, while he does not panic amidst huge challenges. He is not ambivalent and sticks to his stance setting aside all the repercussions, when it comes to making a decision. His clear position on civil-military relations and Pak-India ties are the best examples.

These qualities enabled him to come closer to late Benazir Bhutto, which was followed by a masterstroke, the Charter of Democracy. It translated their vision of a democratic state and society with no direct or indirect intervention by the military.

On the other hand, Shahbaz Sharif has contrasting traits. He is, more or less, restless that restricts the ability to adopt a holistic approach, the prerequisite to lead the people. He is efficient and perfectionist, but it generates another negative - the profound love for immediate gains, while ignoring the net benefit or loss - that is reflected in some of his political statements.

Shahbaz also lacks the charisma that made Nawaz a popular leader. The ‘failed’ October 28 Lahore rally proved that it is only the big brother, who can attract the crowd. The ‘alleged’ soft corner for the military is also unwelcomed; however, he always follows the tone set by the party leader.

Another drawback in the quest for perfection is that he does not trust others and tends to assume all the powers in his hands. He is a lone general and unable to focus on institution building. It is more like the brilliant Napoleon, who lost the Leipzig and Waterloo battles because the B-team did not know what to do in the absence of the master.

But still, he is the most productive Chief Minister in Pakistan’s history. His focus on service delivery, effective bureaucracy and quality work cannot be ignored. Once announced and launched, the projects are supposed to be completed with quality assurance. Furthermore, no big scandal has been reported in Punjab.

Despite the multiple problems, he has managed to deliver. The prime example is the ‘war on dengue’ where he again proved himself as an administrator using the available resources with optimum results. Similarly, the recovery after the devastating floods in 2010 is also commendable.

The most important contributions, in my opinion, are the distribution of laptops and the recently announced women empowerment package, as both will go a long way in bringing a real social change challenging the redundant mindset, which is the main hurdle in materialising the dream of a progressive Pakistan. The proposed amendment in the related law to ensure the distribution of property among the widows and daughters is the best example of state intervention for gender equality in society.

After this praise, here comes some advice. The Chief Minister should avoid pursing projects like sasti roti, as it is not cost-effective with very limited beneficiaries. It is, indeed, equivalent to the centre-run short-sighted BISP, an initiative with minimum positives but with inflationary trends.

Nawaz matured with the passage of time and chose to dispose of the IJI burden to be a real political player with pro-people credentials. New faces, like Maryam Nawaz and Marvi Memon, show that the Sharif brothers are serious in expanding and shifting their support base.

Politics has never been ‘perfect’ and it would never be so! But people must affiliate themselves with only those who are against the status quo. And as a citizen, it is my duty to support the democratic process, rejecting the planted devices.

The writer is a political analyst.

Email: rajarsalan@gmail.com