12 July 2020 07:33 AM



Malice and Fright

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Dilemmas are everywhere. Pakistan is no exception. Some are country-specific, others world-specific. Men who think with the heart and feel with the brain cause dilemmas. Their minds are ruled by emotion, their wishful thinking gone amok leads to overreach. External forces that men do not understand also cause dilemmas. Leaders must learn to control emotions to reach the right conclusions, devise the right strategies coupled with the right tactics. In governance and statecraft leaders have to be ruthlessly realistic after learning the lessons of history. There is no room for hubris.

Minds ruled by emotions take stupid, harmful decisions that paint them into corners. Such men are driven by likes and dislikes – seeking cheap publicity to increase vote banks and wasteful overblown expenditures for short-term applause while lopping off billions for self aggrandizement – or for seeking revenge for slights real or imagined – George W. Bush needlessly attacking Iraq and Nawaz Sharif filing a malicious treason case against General Musharraf. Such people soon come a cropper because they lose touch with the reality of hardheaded real politic and don’t recognize what is good for them and what is bad. The dilemmas they create soon grow horns and if they don’t return to reality fast and start thinking with their brains they get impaled. Malice and fright beget defeat. Realism leads to victory.

In the various dilemmas he has created for himself, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in growing danger of being impaled on the horns of one or gored by them all. There is still time for him to diffuse them and retain office at least until electoral rigging is proved, if ever. Best to go through the horns of a dilemma, make peace with relevant power centres and stop behaving like a potentate taking unconsidered willful decisions.

In the pressure being exerted on him by Imran Khan and Qadiri’s ongoing protestors, the last thing Nawaz Sharif needed was for his malicious treason case against Musharraf going the right way – for him the ‘wrong’ way. But then bulls that you deliberately let out of the pen run loose and go in any direction they wish and gore you. They cannot easily be controlled; if one tries to one is likely to fall even fouler of the law than one already has – no matador Mr. Sharif.

Sharif tried selective justice by claiming that only Musharraf was responsible for imposing the November 2007 emergency and others named in the Proclamation of Emergency Order were uninvolved, so he alone committed ‘treason’ by ‘violating the constitution’ and should be tried and punished. However, with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s letter to President Musharraf asking for emergency coming out, there was no way the court couldn’t include others: a Pandora’s box has been flung open. In the first instance the court has asked for statements from Shaukat Aziz, then Chief Justice Dogar and then law minister Zahid Hamid but not yet the military brass also named as consulted, the most important of whom was then ISI chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani soon to become army chief in Musharraf’s stead. There is no way that they too will not be called, which will put the army’s back up even more. To his credit Zahid Hamid who is also in Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet tendered his resignation immediately. Hamid is not a government servant and doesn’t need the PM’s approval. If he retracts now he will lose whatever respect he has gained.

Shaukat Aziz was within his constitutional rights to ‘advise’ the president to impose emergency, ‘advise’ that is mandatory. Thus there was no constitutional contravention. In fact, if the situation demands emergency and the PM does not ask for it he would be derelict in his duty. And the situation did demand it. It was necessary to remove then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his fellow travelling judges to save the judiciary. Time has proved that the decision was correct because after the questionable restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhry (and other sacked judges) he proceeded to destroy the judiciary by making it partisan and political. Rived with ignorance and hubris, he also became a nitpicker, taking suo moto notice of petty issues that don’t behoove a chief justice. He degraded the judiciary and then destroyed it after allegations of his corruption through his son surfaced that the Supreme Court brushed under the carpet. He will pay for it one day.

Hair splitters say that Musharraf imposed the emergency as army chief and not as president so it was illegal. But in the same breath they say that General Kiyani cannot be blamed for not lifting emergency after becoming army chief because the law giving the army chief power to impose or lift emergency was taken away, so Musharraf lifted it as president. This implies that Musharraf as army chief had the power to impose emergency under the law and did nothing wrong. This is how you tie yourself in knots when you are driven by hatred – “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” and all that jazz.

After the trial court’s latest order to include others in the proceedings, the case is all but done and Nawaz Sharif has all but lost. He doesn’t know what demons and bulls with horns will emerge from the Pandora’s box if the case is allowed to go on. Appealing to the Supreme Court could make it worse, burdened as it still is with Iftikhar Chaudhry judges. Sharif and his loquacious ministers are mum because they are dumb and don’t know what to say. Withdrawing the case is best and would not signify retreat but the return of common sense to the throne. Things are moving fast and Nawaz has already fallen behind. He should not get left so far behind that a metro bus wouldn’t get him back on to the gravy train.

A bit of pressure and this government loses its head, fanning the flames with inflammatory statements and actions. Had Nawaz Sharif agreed to audit the four constituencies that Imran Khan initially demanded it might not have come to this. But his arrogance and lack of wisdom didn’t let him, just as surfeit of vengefulness that caused filing a malicious treason case against Musharraf has got him on the horns of a dilemma. Worse, he singled him out. Even worse, having promised the army that he would remove Musharraf’s name from the Exit Control List if it brought Musharraf to court and let him be indicted, he reneged and made his relationship worse with this most powerful of Pakistani institutions. The army’s notion that he is a liar and cannot be trusted was reinforced.

Today, November 30, 2014, is Imran Khan’s Islamabad rally. He promises it will be a “game changer”. He has threatened that his sit in will now start “damaging” the government and that the “final battle” will begin. Yes, he could decide to flex his ample muscle and if violence breaks out all bets are off. Chances are that if it does the government would have cast the first stone as usual. If Nawaz Sharif reacts like a bull he will find himself in a china shop. He has already started blockading the ‘Red Zone’ that houses the most important state buildings and the Diplomatic Enclave and completely sealing off all entry points into Islamabad. Government might turn the ‘Red Zone’ into a swimming pool to prevent people, but if he does he may find that the pool is filled with human blood, not water. All these gambits have been tried before and failed. He still hasn’t learned that there is no force more powerful than a roused people who, as Faiz said, “will not be diverted with twigs.” Any government trying to stop a river of people has always met with failure. Fright causes defeat. Confidence leads to victory.

Best to leave Imran alone and letting him have his day and that would be that. But ministers are making mindless, self-defeating statements that are only focusing more attention to Imran’s rally. They are discussing all sorts of stupid things, like arresting Imran. If they arrest him all hell will break loose. If there is violence and he is injured or killed, the country could go up in flames. Wasn’t it a solitary Tunisian fruit seller who set himself on fire in protest and set the entire Arab world on fire leading to the downfall of many tyrants in democrat’s clothing. Alienated rulers never learn, even from their own histories and mistakes. Realization comes, but sometimes, only after they are impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Sadly, realization didn’t come to Nawaz Sharif even after his second ouster; instead it reinforced his suicidal vengeful instincts against his political father and we find ourselves in a fragile situation fraught with danger, pregnant with possibilities good and bad – more bad than good given our track record of the absence of wisdom.

This newspaper claimed last Friday that a ‘deal’ had been struck between Imran and the government that he wouldn’t indulge in violence and it wouldn’t prevent people from attending the rally. That is sensible. If true, I see the fingers of the army all over this alleged deal. Why would it wish the government to be toppled when they have got Nawaz Sharif just where they want him? Why would America when they have the obedient poodle that it wants? However, the defence minister’s speech overseas critical of America belies the belief that America is still supporting Sharif, but the minister may not be updated or letting his brain follow his tongue as is his wont. We will soon know.

Sharif’s biggest dilemma is an economy in nosedive. If the IMF disbursement doesn’t come through ‘failed state’ status beckons. With the US delaying its drawdown from Afghanistan it may think that it doesn’t need instability in Pakistan. Regardless, if it thinks that Nawaz Sharif has become too unpopular to deliver, it will do the Mubarak on him. Let us wait to hear the outcome of General Raheel Sharif’s US visit.

SAARC, the association of South Asia, is all be dead, nearly as much as the OIC, due to Modi’s chauvinism. Nawaz and Modi behaved like petulant children, not even shaking hands initially and being quite uncivil. On the final day they shook hands twice for the cameras pretending maturity. Be civil but stand firm on your stance. Modi’s increasingly intolerant and chauvinistic India doesn’t augur well for peace in and around India. If India doesn’t see sense, the danger is more fragmentation.

Yes, a fragile situation is pregnant with possibilities as the world morphs towards a new order. One racist court judgment set America on fire: what price inherently unstable countries?

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