NAB has asked the Ministry of Interior to immediately put Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son in law Safdar on exit control list (ECL). Will it work is questionable. Earlier Ishaq Dar was also on ECL but managed to flee using the Prime Minister’s aircraft. The federal government is dragging its feet and may yet again facilitate a great escape. In urgency, the apex court may have to intervene ‘on a new legal precedence’ that could be called judicial initiative or activism. If it does not, the trial will be stalled indefinitely. Political consequences will be far more damaging for Pakistan.
Sharifs are in a dock and unable to justify the source of their Avenfield properties. They have no legal forensic experts to prove that the money trails they justified through documents are original. Nor is any forensic expert willing to defend fake documents. Evidence in Dubai and United Kingdom is compelling. If somehow, they escape the Pakistani legal system, they will be hauled in Dubai and UK.
The more important question is not that Sharifs will be convicted. Rather, it pertains to consequences and how the political opposition will counter the game of thrones in public domain.
PMLN has an advantage of controlling the federal government and Punjab. Despite being legally and constitutionally cornered, they managed to prevail in Parliament. PTI incompetence played its role in giving them victory in the Senate. Nawaz Sharif has created a perception that distances him from the federal and Punjab governments. This is important for his victim image. Swipes at judiciary, military and Imran Khan are part of the narrative. If he is convicted, these swipes will assume greater enormity.
PMLN wants this to happen so that it carries this battle into the public domain with vengeance. They feel this is the only winning option. Their surging popularity in some segments and two back to back wins are emboldening them into more defiance. Lodhran is a pleasant surprise. A large segment of liberal left, print and television media are his blurting hooters. The deep seated system in Punjab and bureaucracy will act as his Trojans. The fence sitters are anxious and may just retreat home. The power of vote may never be exercised.
Can Nawaz Sharif’s after his disqualification be compared to a ghandasa (battle axe) carrying Punjabi underdog battling odds with chivalry? Yes, it seems so.
In Punjab, defiance is a romantic notion that made Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Quraishi popular. Punjabis love fictional imaging as an entertainment. It is evident that Sharifs have a political plan of creating public perceptions through defiance and innocence; fighting evil. Punjab is important because it is the biggest and only constituency of Sharifs. The narrative will project Nawaz Sharif as the personification of Punjabi defiance.
There are ifs and buts. Punjab also has a reputation of forgetting heroes when the going gets tough.
They propelled Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to power and abandoned him when he needed them most. After the 1977 elections, the defiance was assumed by Pakistan National Alliance (a group of right wingers) that later morphed into Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) led by Sharif himself and later Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. Nawaz Sharif earned his defiance spurs in the 90s when as Chief Minister Punjab, he defied Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Post Kargil, General Musharraf was seen as a defiant underdog and welcomed in 1999 with sweets. Even the left was happy. President Musharraf’s undoing was the defiance of Chief Justice Iftikhar plus the rag tag of electable who orchestrated his undoing after he had lost utility.
Imran Khan with his defiance caught the public imagination on 31st October 2011 at Lahore. He was poised to sweep Punjab. The intervening two years were crucial for PTI. Its surge lost the steam. PMLN read the trends, went into overdrive and ensured that it had the numbers. Imran Khan’s charges of rigging were ignored when the Judicial Commission despite admitting over 40% irregularities upheld the elections. His legal team was weak and chose not to invoke the Inquisitorial Jurisdiction of the commission. Naeem Bokhari his lawyer and judges who revealed more than the prosecutors ensured that the Inquisitorial Jurisdiction was not ignored in Panama. The Joint Investigation Team unearthed most evidence. Yet it was Imran Khan who kept the pyre burning with his aggressive Panama movement.
For Imran Khan, a pause in the battle was never an option. He should have carried this battle to his electorate of Pakistan. Imran Khan’s strength lay in cutting through all divides. October 2011 happened not because of traditional politics. The electable needed him and not him. He compromised his own charisma by recreating a core team largely comprising ticket aspirants and constituency politicians who lacked national appeal. This new core team whose winning tools were money, local influence and biradari (a primordial form of tribal politics) could never conform to the art of pulling crowds and creating perceptions. The fact that the two dynamics were contradictory and never synergised is evident by the laid back approach of old cadres and crucial space ceded to PMLN.
Back then, PTI should have identified the vulnerabilities of PMLN and exploited them effectively. It rather slumbered into traditional politics. PTI’s strength is emotive. Pitching electable against electable has limitations. Turncoat politics has never worked. Political engineering rather than building synergy puts people to slumber. This is what happened.
To take PMLN agitation politics head on, Imran Khan must get back to his old self. He must get to the drawing board and formulate a plan that connects him to every sinew of Pakistan’s society. The essential part of this plan will be informatics, power of software and through it getting into every nook and corner of Pakistan. Most, he has to garner the power of ballot and bring a radical change in voter turnouts. Such a plan calls for a radical change in PTI’s planning mechanism. His loyalist party cadres have the professionalism to turn back the clock to 2011.
Urgency is the keyword. If such a plan is not made, Imran Khan would have put the majority of Pakistan’s youth and marginalised communities into disillusion. He would then become the facilitator who helped PMLN to plunge the country into a chaotic cycle.
Avenfield case is close and shut. Only a miracle could spare convictions. What is certain is that the decision of the accountability court will trigger a legal and political domino effect.
The Ides may come sooner than expected. Pakistan needs a leader who can fight the later events with ferocity.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchor person.