As the start of the GT Road rally, Nawaz Sharif seemed cautious probably because of a perceived lower turnout, but as he moved towards Lahore and the number of participants at the rally increased his tone and style become more aggressive.
This posture is different from the softer tone adopted by the former prime minister during the hearing of the Panama case and the JIT proceedings – while other leaders of his party were much more fiery. After his disqualification, Nawaz Sharif had called the whole fiasco a conspiracy against his government and had said that he had much to share with the people in this regard (but at an appropriate time). Perhaps, that time has arrived as Mian Sahib is speaking with much more clarity now.
If one analyses his speeches, Sharif has emphasised three points. First: he has raised the question of on what basis he has been disqualified. He has asked this, while pointing out that there is no allegation of corruption or embezzlement of funds against him. Is not taking salary from one’s son a crime sufficient for disqualification? Is such a treatment meted out to an elected PM? Is there any such example in any other country in the world? These are the questions being asked by Nawaz Sharif – questions that show how badly his ego has been injured.
Second: Nawaz Sharif has reminded his voters that the verdict had violated the sanctity of the people’s vote by sending an elected PM packing. Sharif has also been repeatedly invoking the people’s mandate and asking people to stand with him and respond to his call. Though he has not announced a concrete plan, one can assume that he has something in mind for which he is preparing his voters.
Third: Nawaz Sharif has spoken for the making of a new Pakistan, and said that what has been happening in the country since the past 70 years must end. Sharif has also said that the sanctity of the votes of 200 million people must be honoured, and the rule of might is right should end now.
These three points were the main topic of every address made by Nawaz Sharif – with little change in wording even – during his GT Road journey and even while talking to the press at Mazar-e-Iqbal on August 14. It is an open secret that the current structure of the state is a collection of contradictions. Civil-military relations have always remained an important topic of debate in every government. Sharif has correctly pointed out that dictators have ruled the country for half its life and that no civilian government has managed to complete its term. He has also been rightly saying that elected prime ministers have either been overthrown on one pretext or the other or been hanged or sent into exile.
The problem with all this is that Mian Sahib is saying this after being disqualified from office and while his family is facing NAB references and the threat of being sent to jail is looming over their heads. It is tragic that – like all his predecessors – Nawaz Sharif did not raise these issues when he was at the helm of affairs and enjoyed public mandate as well as the support of political parties. He could have worked for a new political order, a fresh charter of democracy and a vision for the development of the country if he had wanted to during his four-year rule, but unfortunately he was visionless and his party had even refused to help amend Articles 62-63 which have not led to his disqualification.
During his rally, Sharif repeatedly told the public that he has no desire for prime ministership again. So the question is: why is he preparing for next elections when he is no more the president of the party and cannot contest elections? Will his daughter – his heir apparent – be facing the NAB references? There were two options for Sharif: rest at home, hand over the party reins to his brother or another senior party leader and silently face the NAB references or show political strength, encourage the demoralised party cadres and campaign for the victory of the party in the next elections.
If he had decided to rest at home and had not taken the GT Road route, his voters and leaders would have defected to either the Q League or the PTI. So, he chose the second option and decided to sell the victimhood narrative to lure voters. Sharif, in fact, decided to fight a political battle after losing the legal one. Though the response from the crowd was encouraging, in my opinion Mian Sahib has taken the decision a little late in the day. Had he taken this route before the Panama case verdict, perhaps the situation would have been different.
Although he hinted many times about some conspiracies, Sharif did not speak clearly about them. Who knows better about such things than Nawaz Sharif? He knows how, by becoming part of such conspiracies, politicians get benefits, how elected governments are sent packing home and how democratic politicians harm the very process of democracy and democratic institutions? He himself has played a role in such conspiracies. From the negation of the CoD to the disqualification of Yousaf Raza Gilani, there are many examples one can cite. He did not show regret for such acts even once in his speeches on the GT Road rally. He spoke about Musharraf but did not utter a word about Zia.
The question that now arises is: what is the real purpose behind building this movement? Is he is doing this for himself and his family or for the country and its democracy and constitution? If one sees the verdict it is against a family. Democracy is intact, a prime minister from the same party is in office, the system is functioning, no martial law has been imposed. Then why the protest? Can a common person even think of protesting like this – on government expenses? Court verdicts need to be challenged in a court of law, not on the streets. What message is Nawaz Sharif giving to the common people?
This is not a fight for democracy, but a last-ditch effort for the survival of a political family. The moral grounds on which he makes tall claims are weak. Sharif’s refusal to deal with matters through parliament, his failure to dispel the notion of being a Punjab-centric leader and his preference to handle things in a non-democratic way show the way he chose to rule.
(Some content in this article have been inspired from Ashfaq Azar’s article in the Sindhi daily, Kavish (August 12, 2017).
The writer is a freelance contributor.