Something Stinks in the House of Sharif
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with journalists at his residence in Lahore
I was absent last Sunday because I went into sloth. I went into sloth because my prized German Shepherd bitch Zelda died of ‘stomach twist’. I was shaken out of my sloth by the din and clamour of the much-hyped by-election in Lahore’s constituency NA 122 last week, such hype that one would have thought that the result would change the course of history or the terminal decline of our political system.
We were all bereft. Zelda’s puppies are all over Pakistan making their presence felt in dog shows. Her first litter was sired by Ustinov, then World Number Two; her subsequent litters were sired by my Champion Manelo, now gone to live with the stars. Zelda has left her mark on Pakistani dogdom. RIP Zelda.
The by-election was between the ruling PML-N’s Speaker Ayaz Sadiq who had been de-seated by an Election Tribunal, embarrassingly two-and-a-half years after the event, and Imran Khan’s PTI candidate Aqeel Khan, a property developer. Sadiq had defeated Imran Khan in the 2013 general elections, but this time Imran, already an assemblyman, fielded his nominee instead. It was actually a clash of two massive egos: Nawaz Sharif out to prove that the May 2013 elections that brought him to power an unlikely third time were not rigged and Imran Khan trying to prove that they were, whether organized or disorganized matters little. The report of the Judicial Commission headed by the Chief Justice and two other serving Supreme Court judges to investigate the charges of rigging came to the comical conclusion that the elections were ‘largely’ fair, whatever that means in judicial lingo. Methinks it means you can rig partially but not largely. What price wisdom? However, successive Election Tribunals ruled against winning candidates after the report thus ignoring the Judicial Commission’s claptrap.
Ayaz Sadiq won by a whisker despite official backing. It should cause Imran Khan concern – so near and yet so far. He needs to go back to the drawing board. Perhaps he is not getting the best of advice, surrounded as he is by filthy rich landlords and industrialists known best for being turncoats and serving many a master. Mercifully, the filthiest of the landlords left him during the dharna. There is nothing wrong with being filthy rich provided the riches have been earned honestly and morally and principles have not been trampled underfoot. At least Shah Mahmood Qureshi resigned as People’s Party foreign minister on a point of principle when he refused to give diplomatic immunity to the CIA killer Raymond Davis, but a servile army chief let Davis be winkled out of the country on America’s orders.
Where are those who were standing with Imran at the starting post? They are nowhere to be seen or heard. Imran needs to get back to basics. It didn’t even occur to him that the by-election had become so important because it symbolized the battle between right and wrong. Imran wanted to clean up the system from within; instead the system has cleaned him up. He should have fielded himself against Ayaz Sadiq, just as he would come out to bat when the first wicket was down so that he could demonstrably lead from the front and instill confidence and certainty in his boys, which is why he led his team to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup. But when ‘electability’ any old how and the wherewithal to spend billions in election campaigning in what Pakistan has now been reduced to is the criterion, principles go out of the window. ‘Principles’, what ‘principles’? What does that word mean? It is ‘Principal’, Humayun your incorrigible dreamer, as in whose agent you are. He who you represent is the ‘principal’. Imran cannot decide whether he is a child of the One God represented by His vicegerents the People who alone can bring him to meaningful and revolutionary power or a whether he is a child of the system. “To be or not to be” is his conundrum. Trapped between being a revolutionary and a traditional politician of the iniquitous status quo, Imran is in danger of becoming a political bipolar schizoid. He cannot decide whether he likes the Taliban simply because they spew Islamic rhetoric while shredding Islam or he dislikes the Taliban. He cannot decide whether he is for corruption or against it, for he has taken many a corrupt person on board. Sometimes he waits upon the army to raise its finger, sometimes the baying crowd of uncles, aunties and burger brats. It seems that Pakistanis yearning for another political alternative to the House of Bhutto and the House of Sharif will have to wait a while more.
Listen Imran: that imposter called ‘success’ does not necessarily mean coming to power. It means changing the course of history, of changing destinies for the better, of improving the pathetic human condition. You know that else you would not have built that incredible hospital. You can either be a revolutionary who upturns the iniquitous status quo for a better one, or a child of the system by becoming a traditional politician, but you cannot be both at the same time. You have become a traditional politician but still spew revolutionary rhetoric that makes some people wish to puke. Great cricketer though you might have been Imran my friend, you are no Mohammad Ali Jinnah who brought a revolution while bucking the colonial system. That Jinnah’s times were different is neither here not there. He was fighting a fearsome liberation struggle against the British hegemon and his native toadies to whom he had given fiefs and titles; we are fighting a fearsome liberation struggle against the U.S. hegemon and his native toadies upon whom have also been bestowed all sorts of benefits and offices at the hegemon’s behest or approval while the native toadies and stooges of our native viceroys also have offices and titles and fiefs bestowed on them in the form of corrupt land and money. ‘Land of the Pure’ what? More faithfully Pakistan means ‘Pure Land’ made impure by its impure inhabitants who masquerade as Muslims. What Pakistan lacks today is a leader like Jinnah with his rational intellect, his intellectual, moral and financial integrity and total love for and commitment to his cause.
The by-election was a tamasha that Ayaz Sadiq won by a whisker, which should cause Nawaz Sharif concern. Had Sadiq not had relevant parts of the federal and Punjab provincial government machineries working for him, with federal and provincial ministers, including the prime minister, the chief minister and his son hitting the stump in his support, and had Imran fielded himself as a candidate and stayed the course instead of departing for Islamabad, the result could have been different. In fact, none of Imran’s ‘high command’ was there on the day except Chaudhry Sarwar of Scotland.
The ‘N’ in PML-N stands for ‘Nawaz’, defining and underlining it as a family fief, like Saudi Arabia named after the founder of the kingdom. Actually it is a faction flotsam of the original All India Muslim League headed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. There are many Muslim Leagues now but none are even a shadow of the original.
Nawaz Sharif should remember his genesis, that he was brought to political life by military ruler General Zia ul Haq and then resurrected back to political life by our last military ruler General Pervez Musharraf when he first pardoned him, then met his request to be sent to Saudi Arabia and then couldn’t help his return after he had also unconscionably pardoned Benazir Bhutto and husband. He couldn’t snap out of the magic web woven around him with promises of power sharing with the ‘liberal’ Benazir.
Nawaz is not a natural political animal like virtually all our politicians are not, conceived in the test tube of the army as they are. Though Nawaz has understood our inhuman political and electoral system very well and mastered the art of manipulating it in his favour, it does not make him a real politician, only a wheeler-dealer, Dickens’s fictional ‘Artful Dodger’ leapt out of the pages of ‘Oliver Twist’ and come to life. Had he been a real national political leader he would have had a following in at least some parts of every province of Pakistan, not just in central Punjab that gives him a majority that enables him to hijack the whole of Pakistan. If we could not stand the majority of the Bengalis of the province of East Pakistan to the extent that we were content to lose it, how can we stand the majority of the province of Punjab that has always voted for a Pakistani leader, to wit a Sindhi and Kashmiri. Should one conclude that the Punjab allows non-Punjabis to hijack Pakistan? Or should one conclude that Punjab is our only non-parochial province, which is good for Pakistan? But that is the reason why I have been saying for a quarter of the century to create many new provinces and cause a complete separation between the Executive and Parliament-Legislature instead of treating it like an electoral college for electing chief executives of the federation and the provinces. That would create the vital check and balance that is an imperative for a federation to function with equity. But that is something opposed tooth and nail by agricultural robber barons, industrial carpetbaggers many with a feudal mindset and tribal warlords who benefit from the British parliamentary system meant for a unitary state, not a federation.
Nawaz Sharif should consider what has come of him. Since last June he has been incrementally ceding power and space to his political father the army, which now determines foreign policy, defence and internal security and part of the justice system. While the army chief’s popularity has risen Nawaz Sharif’s popularity has waned. In a normal country few would even know the name of the army chief. While the army chief is received abroad like a visiting head of government, Nawaz Sharif is received like a necessary nuisance, not least because he no longer has the power to deliver what the hegemon wants. He has to because without the hegemon’s consent he could not have come to power again and got the huge parliamentary mandate he has. He cannot deliver either to the hegemon or to his people because he has reduced himself to honourary prime minister from honourable prime minister. He has now been summoned to Washington to give an account of his performance. Intriguingly, it is widely rumoured that the army chief is also going there hot on Sharif’s heels. Has the time of decision come? Is Pakistan going Thailand and Egypt’s way or are we in for another untimely election that will hopefully throw up a more efficient satrap or are they going to be content with Nawaz Sharif for they couldn’t find a more loyal satrap than him. Let’s see.
Any wonder then that something stinks in the House of Sharif. The stink is raised by infighting within the family over succession: who will wear Nawaz Sharif’s mantle after him, his daughter Mariam or his nephew Hamza Shahbaz? Some ministers and minions have lined up behind the Empress Dowager and her daughter, some behind brother Shahbaz Sharif and his son. They behave like royals, while they are only the leftover scum of General Zia.
Thus the federal and Punjab cabinets are rived with severe infighting with various ministers not even on talking terms, one federal minister accusing the Punjab law minister of mass murder with his father bearing in with vile threats while the law minister’s mouthpieces weigh in with vile counter threats. The finance minister, whose son is married to Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, is hated by virtually the entire cabinet. There is no cohesion or cooperation and projects are getting delayed and deliberately inflated for kickbacks. Worse, they are also running down one another on television, presenting a pretty picture of a carriage drawn by horses galloping in different directions. It’s a mess, a complete mess. Having gone from honourable prime minister to honourary prime minister with his power and authority diminishing steadily, Nawaz Sharif looks lost, his face betraying his helplessness in the face of the fearsome infighting within his family, ‘friends’ and party colleagues.
What of the Election Commission though? Is it errant, hapless or helpless? It allowed election rules and regulations to be flouted under its nose. In fact, it may have flouted some itself. Why else did many residents of NA 122 find that their votes had suddenly got registered in another constituency, even in another city? Why did the ECP allow indirect electioneering to continue in the guise of press conferences and television interviews after campaigning time was over? Why did it allow money to be disgracefully overspent in campaigning beyond the permissible limit? Time to rethink the composition of the ECP. Why must it comprise only judges, serving and clapped out? Why not men and women of integrity who are not in government and thus less likely to be partial to any party or to be purchased? Time to revisit electoral rules and regulations again as well.
The good news is that not only is there a high stink rising from the House of Sharif but a higher stink rising from the House of our Alien Political System. Both stinks fast becoming a stench smell of death. This is good news because only then is our benighted country likely to prosper if it is rid of both Houses, a million curses fall on them both, like they have fallen on the House of Bhutto. If they are not careful, the curse could fall on the House of Generals also. Don’t meddle with evolution unless it sucks you in itself. And that is the best news: death of all Houses is coming at the hands of natural political evolution. But being an incorrigible dreamer I always find silver linings in fearsome storm clouds and become an optimist, for to lose hope is to lose faith in God.
Young women and men, girls and boys, bachcha brats or biryani brats, listen. The future belongs to you. Grab it with both hands and make it better than we have made the awful present. Don’t let the moment pass, for life is a necklace of continuous moments one threaded after the other. Don’t lose sight of that important bead by searching for a gem.