Op-ed: Nawaz Sharif has strong words, but weak credibility

To fight the status quo has always been an uphill task, for which the warriors have to be clean and untainted, otherwise, they continue to surrender, run away or perish, writes Farid Malik.

Nawaz Sharif APC speech

Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, through a video link, roared like a lion from the safety of his London residence in his speech to the APC of September 20 in Islamabad. It was a great speech, he raised pertinent issues. Democracy in Pakistan has been repeatedly undermined by the establishment, but with the connivance of civilians like the Sharifs of Lahore, the Chaudhries of Gujrat, the Wattoos of Okara, the Dastagirs of Gujranwala, the Khawajas of Sialkot ─ the list goes on.

Currently the scientists of the world are focused on producing vaccines for the prevention of the Coronavirus. Once that task has been accomplished they can start work on developing a Memory Fade Injection (FI) for Mian Sahib to be taken seriously. In Punjabi, it will be called “bhul da teeka“. The PML(N) should fund this effort to erase their past stampede on democratic institutions.

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Nawaz Sharif, the eldest son of Mian Sharif of Gowalmandi, was inducted into the Punjab Government on the recommendation of the late Lt Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan, the governor of the province. Zia wanted to counter the popularity of Bhutto’s party in Punjab by manipulating the democratic order through misuse of the state apparatus.

In the 1988 elections when Benazir led her party to victory in Sindh and the centre, Nawaz was installed as CM of the largest province to contain and undermine the Prime Minister. It was because of unscrupulous politicians like Nawaz that the ‘Daughter of the East’ had to compromise to come into power with irritants like Nawaz, the then COAS Gen Aslam Beg and Ishaq Khan as President. Together, they ensured the supremacy of the establishment.

In 1977 Bhutto was accused of rigging the election to get an absolute majority although his popularity was never in question. NS managed to achieve this feat twice (1999 and 2013)

After failing to out vote Benazir through a no-confidence vote, her government was dismissed by the President under the draconian 8th Amendment, introduced by Nawaz’s mentor Gen Zia-ul-Haq who was then COAS and President, and had stepped down as CMLA. Lt Gen Hamid Gul then formed the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad to ensure that Nawaz landed in the PM Secretariat. Earlier, the elected government of Muhammad Khan Junejo was dismissed by Zia when it decided to investigate the Ojri Camp disaster. Nawaz sided with his mentor, the tormentor of democracy.

Nawaz was elected PM in 1990, 1997 and 2013 through unfair means. In 1990 he was given a simple majority through the IJI, in 1997 he managed to get an absolute majority with the help of the establishment, and in 2013 through the NRO, when the two major parties decided to take turns after the assassination of Benazir. In 1992, his government was dismissed by his mentor Ishaq Khan. By that time Nawaz had penetrated into the judiciary and the administrative set-up.

Read more: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: A Challenge to Status Quo

In the history of the country, his was the only government that was restored by the Supreme Court. After his restoration, he drove straight to the tomb of his “Political Abbaji” to offer fateha. He went to thank the usurper who had deshaped the Constitution by forcing the 8th Amendment on the basis of which his government had beensent packing. In 1977 Bhutto was accused of rigging the election to get an absolute majority although his popularity was never in question. NS managed to achieve this feat twice (1999 and 2013).

In parliamentary democracy such performance smells of foul play. On both occasions it was his arrogance at being able to manipulate the system that got him into trouble. Mian Sharif or Abba Ji understood all the shortcuts to glory and empire building. His approach to life was simple, ‘Every person has a price, pay it and get the job done ‘. He always traveled with a trunk full of cash to be used as and when needed.

Bhutto revolted against Ayub Khan and launched his Peoples Party in November 1967. Under his leadership the party struggled for three years and won 81 seats in the 1970 elections

The pay-for service system that is prevalent today in most government offices is a result of this approach, ‘No upfront money no service ‘. Before the advent of this pseudo-democracy, the police was only corrupt; now they have criminals within their fold. Most civilian institutions have been rendered non-functional by these corrupt-to-the-core politicians.

I remember the trial of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) in the Lahore High Court. Though there was clear bias of the court headed by Mr Justice Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmed, the party workers were not asked to mob the court. The sanctity of the institution was respected. ZAB was brought in a Police jeep from Kot Lakhpat Jail. He sat in the front passenger seat while there were a few police guards in the back.

In the corruption trials of both the Sharifs and Zardari there is a mob that tries to intimidate justice, and rose petals are sprinkled as if they are heroes. Being a lawyer himself, ZAB did not delay his trial, there were a few boycotts when Justice Mushtaq refused to recuse himself from the bench despite the fact that written objections were raised against him.

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ZAB was expecting to be exonerated from the Supreme Court. Even in his last address to the court in his defense which was later published as Witness to Splendor, he never criticized the judiciary. By contrast, the Supreme Court was attacked by PML(N) goons in 1997 when a case was being heard against the PM. Recently the attack on NAB Lahore office is unprecedented in the country’s history.

The doors for repentance and apology are always open, and in that context it was indeed a great speech. In the USA Robert McNamara, as John F.Kennedys Defense Secretary decided to go to war in Vietnam. More than 50,000 Americans died in this aimless adventurism. He then became President of the World Bank, and when he decided to write his autobiography it was titled: My Apology. He openly admitted his faults and apologized to the nation seeking forgiveness. The rest of his life was spent in repentance, and after that he did not seek any public office.

The bureaucracy and the law enforcement agencies also need to be cleared of political influences so that they can work independently according to law and laid down procedures

Through the newly formed Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) Nawaz can follow the same course. He has a chance of retribution and correction. Instead of using the age-old techniques of delay, he can come and fight his cases till he is exonerated of all the charges, or can enter into a plea bargain and return some of the looted money to clear his name and conscience. He can then lead a movement for strengthening the democratic institutions he destroyed in connivance with the Zia/Gul/Ishaq/Beg-led establishment.

In the checkered political history of Pakistan, only two genuine political parties were launched without establishment support. Bhutto revolted against Ayub Khan and launched his Peoples Party in November 1967. Under his leadership, the party struggled for three years and won 81 seats in the 1970 elections. Imran Khan launched his Tehreek-e-Insaf in April 1996 but his struggle was much longer mainly because Bhutto’s party fell under the leadership of Asif Zardari who decided to join hands with the PM(N).

Read more: Pakistan’s Age of Accountability: Will it sustain itself?

Together they took turns in plundering the nation. The two parties, due to their long stints in power, have made deep inroads of influence in the civil administration, and as such they have become states within the state. Bilawal may have a future if he follows the politics of Bhuttos instead of the Zardaris.

To give credit to Nawaz, he has raised some pertinent issues which have to be addressed but not by the people who created them in the first place. In my analysis, the establishment today is willing to march out, but the receiving side is not up to the mark. It is correct that their past conduct has been unbecoming but now the keys cannot be handed over to thugs with vested personal interests.

The sooner the operation clean-up is accomplished, the better it will be for the country and its cornered democracy. Gradually the accountability should net all the corrupt in every party, including the ruling government, but there are serious capacity issues. The bureaucracy and the law enforcement agencies also need to be cleared of political influences so that they can work independently according to law and laid down procedures.

Read more: Is Pakistan moving forward or backwards?

Though Nawaz’s words are strong, his past credibility does not support his current stance. To fight the status quo has always been an uphill task; for which the warriors have to be clean and untainted, otherwise they continue to surrender, run away or perish. While the list of fugitives is long the heroes are few and mostly unlisted, called the unknown soldiers of change fighting for ‘Naya Pakistan’, their struggle is ongoing and unending.

Dr. Farid A.Malik is the Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. (Fr. General Manager PITAC, Process Engineering Manager Intel Corporation Engineering and Management Consultant). He was a Shadow Minister PTI and Co-Ordinator of the PTI Think Tank where the framework of the Welfare State was developed. The article was first published in Pakistan Today and has been republished here with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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