Learning nothing from history

November 24, 2023
(L to R) PML-N leaders Maryam Nawaz, Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif at the stage during a rally at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, on October 21, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — Xpmln_org

Recent political developments suggest that the revolutionaries of the Pakistani political system who claim to have challenged the mighty elements of state in the past have completely surrendered to those that have been deciding about the crucial matters of our national life since the emergence of the Islamic republic.

These developments made it very clear that politicians are no longer in a mood to confront those who have been encroaching upon civilian domains. It seems that they have finally accepted the hegemony of the status-quo forces and have made the decision to not disturb it.

Those who take such assertions with a pinch of salt should carefully analyze the recent interaction of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with those who love to become part of any government that is willing to compromise on principles and ready to accommodate them in the power structure. Nawaz’s hobnobbing with the Balochistan Awami Party's members clearly indicates that ethics holds no importance in the current political system of Pakistan. All claims of civilian supremacy and rule of law seem to have been forgotten. It seems that the czar of N-League is likely to go to any extent to make it to the power corridors of Islamabad again.

It is an open secret that the party from Pakistan's most deprived province was created by the non-democratic forces who ironically used it to destabilize the government of Nawaz’s party in the past. Despite all that, Nawaz chose to hold an olive branch to these traditional politicians. Such interaction has greatly disappointed those who believed that the N-League had left the politics of electables behind.

And it is not just those in Balochistan who are finding solace in the shelter of the N-League but political opportunists from southern Punjab and other parts of the province are said to also be planning to throw their support behind Nawaz. The N-League seems to be thinking that with the help of these electables, it might be in a position to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament. The party might be dreaming of enacting some drastic legislation with the help of these unpredictable elements. But what it tends to forget is the last time it managed to get an overwhelming majority. The party did secure a heavy mandate in 1997 which evaporated within no time when electables sensed a change in the direction of the wind. It is ironic that, despite knowing how fragile this support is, the party is still banking on them.

It is not only the matter of forming political alliances where the party seems to have learnt nothing. Some feel that the PML-N is making gross mistakes in other spheres as well. For instance, it has always been lambasted for promoting dynastic politics and nepotism. Yes, Sharif family members have offered tremendous sacrifices for democracy in the past. They had to go through a tough time defending civilian space from the encroachment of non-democratic forces. It is also true that Nawaz was the first leader from Punjab who created awareness on a massive scale about the power imbalance in the country’s political system.

But one should also not forget that it was not only the Sharifs who suffered but others from the party also faced a brutal crackdown during the dictatorial regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf. Khawaja Saad Rafiq, Khawaja Asif, Pervaiz Rasheed, late Mushahidullah Khan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Javed Hashmi, Nehal Hashmi, and a number of other party workers also faced one of the worst crackdowns in the history of the country. Given all this, it was expected that the party would prefer workers in important positions instead of handing these slots to relatives and members of the Sharif extended family. But unfortunately, it seems the party did not learn anything on this front as well.

Whether the party is in power or in opposition, it is the Sharif family members who have always been allotted the top slots. In the past a junior Hamza Sharif was preferred over veteran leaders of the party when it came to choosing the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly. Similarly, during Imran Khan’s time Shehbaz Sharif was given the title of opposition leader in the lower house of parliament. The position of Punjab chief minister and the prime minister were also awarded to the son and the father respectively. But whenever the party faced tough times, it was the ordinary worker or party leaders outside the Sharif family who were told to sacrifice. The removal of Pervez Rashid over the issue of Dawn Leaks could be cited as one of the examples where a non-Sharif had to face the brunt of a decision made by the Sharif family.

It was not only the past but there are indications even now that the family members would be preferred. Shehbaz is set to be chief minister of Punjab while the older Sharif would be capturing the power corridors of Islamabad. Ishaq Dar, Hamza Shehbaz, Abid Sher Ali, Captain Safdar and other members of Sharif family or the extended family would be doled out government positions again in Punjab and Islamabad. This is likely to provide Nawaz’s detractors a tool to malign the entire political class of the country. It will go some way in vindicating Imran Khan who has always come hard on the Sharifs for promoting nepotism.

Although the party has made it clear that it does not intend to amend the 18th Amendment, there are still apprehensions that a pliant PML-N might make some changes in the landmark legislation to appease those who are planning to install it in Islamabad and Punjab. Such a move would be a blunder and might greatly damage the federation of the country. But before committing another gross mistake, the party should reflect upon the laws it passed during previous stints in power. During the decade of the 1990s, the party tried to turn the prime minister into an Amir-ul-Momineen. It also carried out some of the most retrogressive pieces of legislation during the same time while, between 2013 and 2018, it introduced one of the most draconian laws that has been stifling critical voices since its enactment.

On the economic front, the party believes that it should follow the disastrous policy of liberalization, privatization and deregulation, which has thrown millions into the abyss of poverty and if the party insists on continuing the same policy, it will create more hardships for ordinary people. It is also believed that the party is going to follow the same development model of mega projects that added to the external debt we are facing today besides diverting much-crucial funding from health, education, sanitation and housing to these capital-intensive initiatives.

This all suggests that our politicians do not want to learn anything from history. It is said history is a lesson for those who want to learn, not for those who want to remain stuck in the past. I wonder if this applies to our political class.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: egalitarianism444gmail.com