Sharif’s bad mojo

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Arif Nizami

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

Since the start of the dharnas Nawaz Sharif has been suffering from an incredibly bad mojo. Although never good at exuding charm, well in his third term he gives the impression of being clueless and completely burnt out.

His sojourn to the United Nations to address to the General Assembly session was another lacklustre affair. Much to the chagrin of the Indians he did take up the Kashmir issue in his speech. But in the absence of any other important bilateral meetings his advisor on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz could have done an equally good job of going through the formality of addressing the world forum.

Internationally right now Sharif is perceived as a considerably weakened leader at home. Hence his first priority should have been to fix the problem staying in Islamabad.

The Indian Prime Minister Narindera Modi has snubbed Sharif by not agreeing to meet him on the sidelines of the General Assembly session unless Islamabad drops Kashmir from the agenda. Of course any such initiative under the circumstances was not possible.

Paradoxically, Sharif’s star is on the decline and that of Modi on the ascendency. After highly successful bilateral summits with China and Japan in the past few weeks, the US president is laying a red carpet for the Indian prime minister in Washington.

Perhaps not to alienate the Indians no bilateral meeting between Sharif and Obama was scheduled. He has to contend with meeting Vice President Joe Biden, known more for his gaffs than cerebral discourse.

Back home, although Sharif’s kitchen cabinet is putting up a brave show by playing on the front foot, the situation does not look good at all. Imran Khan and TuQ (Tahirul Qadri), albeit in decimated numbers, are staying put at the D-chowk in Islamabad.

The Khan is not willing to budge for anything less than Sharif’s scalp. In the process he wants to demonstrate to the powers that be that he represents the aspirations of the people

At the same time the PTI chief has raised the ante by holding a large public meeting in Karachi. The Lahore rally at Minar-e-Pakistan planned for today is going to be a big affair as well.

The Khan is not willing to budge for anything less than Sharif’s scalp. In the process he wants to demonstrate to the powers that be that he represents the aspirations of the people.

He claims that he has broken the record of dharnas by sticking on for more than 45 days. Similarly he will also set a new record of launching ‘an unparalleled historic movement’ against PML-N government.

Unfortunately he is unable to outgrow his past as a cricketing celebrity. Politics, a different game being art of the possible, is not a Test match, an ODI or T20.

If he takes time out to study history — not a domain of Pakistani politicians in general — he would realise that movements in Pakistan have mostly resulted in extra constitutional interventions. Take Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, although harbinger of a peoples revolution, whose movement against the decade old tyranny of self proclaimed Field Marshal Ayub Khan resulted in another General, Yayha Khan, usurping power. In the process Pakistan was dismembered.

The PNA (Pakistan National Alliance) movement against the Bhutto regime in protest against alleged election rigging in 1977 resulted in the long dark night of General Ziaul Haq’s Isalmic dictatorship that ended only when the general died in a plane crash. Perhaps the only successful movement that ushered in a democratic era was the lawyers’ movement against Musharraf for the restoration of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The Khan by his stubbornness and Sharif by his recalcitrance are again pushing the country to the precipice of disaster. The narrative of Khan and TuQ’s disciples — to hell with the constitution we want Nawaz Sharif to go come what may — is fraught with dangerous consequences.

Despite some TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) groups claiming to renounce terrorism and concentrate on Afghanistan, the expected blowback of Zarb-e-Azb is surely raising its head. Recent suicide bombing in Peshawar targeting an FC brigadier and another attack in Karachi intended to kill a top anti-terror cop is indicative of a newly emerging pattern.

Coupled with this, recent attacks on the Naval dockyard and Pakistan Air Force base in Quetta amply demonstrate the destructive capacity of the Taliban. The outgoing Peshawar corps commander, in his remarks at the NDU (National Defence University), has stressed the need to expand Zarb-e-Azb to southern Punjab and Balochistan.

It is obvious that the military, by launching an operation against the TTP, has only scorched the snake not killed it. A herculean effort will be needed to combat this hydra headed monster.

But perhaps the Taliban threat does not bother the PTI and PAT duo. They are only worried about satisfying their bloated egos by crying hoarse from the top of their containers that they are the promised messiahs and all the rest are corrupt and effete.

Imran Khan, who has always nurtured a soft corner for the Taliban, is not bothered. As for the Sharifs they have always taken the path of least resistance to save their own skin from the possible wrath of the Taliban. But now the TTP has vowed to target PML-N leadership as well.

It is obvious that the military, by launching an operation against the TTP, has only scorched the snake not killed it. A herculean effort will be needed to combat this hydra headed monster

Ironically, quite a few white-collared in the upper middle class is enamoured by Khan’s oratory against the system. Their supporters perceive him and TuQ as some kind of supra revolutionaries.

That speaks volumes about waning commitment for democracy and constitutionalism. The established political elite — quite a few are seen flocked around Qadri and Imran as well — should introspect on this phenomenon. They are seen as an impervious lot who are voted in as pro poor but do nothing for the teeming masses.

Recent promotions and retirements at the GHQ, especially impending exit of the retiring ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam and his successor Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar taking over in November, has been a subject of a lot of speculation in the media. It is really pathetic that the change in guard at the top intelligence arm of the military should get so much traction.

The ISI has to outgrow the perception that instead of merely doing its mandated job it has its finger in every pie. Politicians are equally at fault for openly inviting the national security agency to lend them a helping hand.

The Khan had also blatantly clamoured for the fabled ‘third umpire’ to raise his finger. Now that it has not happened he should return to the negotiating table instead of huffing and puffing in every nook and corner of the country.

Negotiations are an integral part and parcel of politics. But for any meaningful talks there has to be a ceasefire. One cannot abuse each other and also engage in meaningful parleys at the same time.

If the Khan remains adamantly obstinate, in the absence of negotiations the government should unilaterally announce elections reforms including reconstitution of the election commission and setting up of the supreme judicial commission to probe PTI chief’s allegations against some important players including a media group and fraud in the May11, 2013 elections.

Of course the PTI chief has backed out of his demand of setting up of a commission claiming that such commissions are of no use. But perhaps the real reason is that it will be difficult for him to prove most of his wild allegations against all and sundry in the proposed commission.

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