PML-N is generally dubbed a ‘GT Road party’ as the areas adjacent to this road are the party’s primary political support base in Pakistan. So, after being disgracefully removed from the premiership by the apex court, the disgruntled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chose the GT Road to be the route for his ‘homecoming rally’. By holding this rally, he apparently tried to retain his political relevance in the country. In March 2009, NS organised and led a long march on GT Road to uphold the independence of the judiciary. Consequently, then President Asif Ali Zardari had to restore disbanded judges of the superior judiciary. Ironically, some 8 years later, the ‘independent judiciary’ sent NS back to home through the same GT Road.

It was being guessed that NS would try to mount pressure on certain state institutions to secure some legal concessions for him in the future through this rally. However, this rally transformed into a ‘revolutionary march’ when NS instantly started talking about a new ‘social contract’ to establish civilian supremacy in the country. Observably, NS’ tone and tenor became harsher as he came closer to his hometown Lahore. Though he couldn’t pull a massive crowd, he somehow succeeded in boosting the morale of his dejected party leaders and workers.

Following the Panamagate verdict delivered by the SC last month, a number of political developments have given rise to a dangerous predicament in Pakistan. PML-N and its leader NS have put forward a political narrative by maintaining that NS has been unjustifiably ousted as a consequence of a conspiracy jointly hatched by the military establishment and the superior judiciary. They are trying to give an impression that the Panama case was a farce since not a single corruption allegation against NS has been proven. NS has constantly been alluding to these facts during his recent 4-day homecoming rally. Carrying NS’ signature question: ‘Why have I been ousted?’, a large number of pamphlets were also dropped by helicopters in various cities.

It is really worrisome that the federal government, including the incumbent Prime Minister, chief ministers of Punjab and Balochistan, AJK Prime Minister and the party’s parliamentarians are standing shoulder to shoulder with NS while PML-N’s anti-establishment and anti-judiciary political narrative is being forcefully propagated. Incumbent Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has publicly ‘declared’ that NS is still his prime minister. Similarly, all PML-N federal and provincial ministers also look determined to extend their unqualified support to NS, enabling him to accomplish his revolutionary agenda. So we have just observed how extensively the federal and Punjab administrations facilitated the participants of the recent GT Road rally. This practice would escalate tension and confrontation among crucial state institutions in the days to come. If this situation persists, Pakistan would also drift towards political destabilisation.

Besides key state institutions, mutual conflict among political parties in the country is also rising. Leaders of these parties are missing no opportunity to harm and malign their political opponents. They are trying their best to establish, both inside and outside the courts, that their opponents are corrupt and dishonest. They are also feeling no hesitation at all while discussing alleged immoral aspects of each other’s private lives. These practices have severely damaged the public image of the political class. Therefore, the very capacity of the politicos to protect and evolve democratic institutions in the country is observably impaired.

Currently, the Panamagate verdict is largely being analysed in a typical legal and constitutional context. But worryingly, its underlying political dimension is being ignored altogether. Involving the political future of the leader of the largest political party, this case will greatly impact politics and the body politic. This verdict relates to NS who is the founder and head of PML-N. It is rather a bitter political reality that the cults of personality have eclipsed the identity of almost all political parties in Pakistan. The ruling PML-N has no existence or identity independent of NS. Therefore, the instant disqualification of NS has badly undermined the political significance and relevance of the largest parliamentary party in the country.

Political parties are indispensable to the smooth functioning of democracy. Unfortunately, no political party in Pakistan is equally popular in all the four federating units. Therefore, following the 2013 General Elections, only different political parties could succeed in forming their governments in the four provinces. Now the Panama verdict is also being viewed as a verdict against the PML-N which is popular in Punjab. It is really regrettable and rather condemnable that this ‘Punjab card’ was also played by some participants in the GT Road rally. If PML-N becomes politically irrelevant in Pakistan, no other political party, including the PTI, would be capable of instantly filling this political vacuum. Therefore, it is not advisable to do a ‘political purification’ in the country by endangering the cohesion of the federation.

It is also very unfortunate that a lot of people are actively protecting the honour and dignity of the armed forces and the superior judiciary while severely criticising and cursing the politicians. Indeed, no one should be allowed to defame the judiciary and the armed forces. However, these are not the only institutions that should be respected and honoured. The parliament and the cabinet are also crucial state institutions. The prime minister is a national leader who is a symbol of national pride and honour. He represents the nation. Therefore, he must also be respected just like individuals from other ‘sensitive’ institutions.

NS was an elected prime minister. But he was asked to step down on the basis of unsubstantiated rigging allegations soon after coming into power in 2013. He has persistently been called a thug and ‘Chor’ (thief) by PTI leaders as soon as Panama scam was surfaced in April last year. Similarly, the judges of the apex court have been equating him with a godfather of the Sicilian mafia. One wonders how this sort of political culture would help Pakistan flourish as a progressive democratic entity. Indeed, if PML-N’s ideology or governance is not desirable, then this political order can be replaced by another political order based on better political ideology. But one should be allowed to do this only through a political and electoral process. This is what we call a democracy.

At present, Pakistan is actively fighting a war against terrorism which has been posing an existential threat to it. Rapidly-changing geo-strategic realties in the region is another perplexing challenge for Pakistan. Both our Eastern and Western borders have become volatile. Moreover, our economy is also not doing well. Accumulated public debt has touched the alarming figure of Rs20 trillion. Fiscal deficit is now equivalent to one-third of the total annual budget. Similarly, the energy sector’s circular debt has reached the highest point. CPEC and its accompanying energy sector projects are still in the middle of nowhere. These grave security and economic challenges certainly demand political stability and a harmonious working relationship among country’s key institutions.

Politicos will certainly have to harvest what ‘wild oats’ they are now readily sowing. They are naively throwing stones at each other while staying in the same glasshouse. Now they should behave sensibly. They will have to set and abide by some rules of the game. They should collectively endeavour to evolve a healthy political culture, which can only give rise to a better political order in the country. They will have to focus on the welfare of the masses, which is also the ultimate objective of democracy.