“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”. — William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar” Act 4, scene 3
Today, many people believe that had it not been for Mian Nawaz Sharif — the head of the second largest party in parliament, the PML-N — the ruling coalition would have long been sent home. Sharif’s detractors accuse him of running a friendly opposition. It is hard to deny that after signing the Charter of Democracy, he has shown uncharacteristic patience at a personal cost. There was a time when all among the government’s coalition partners, with the exception of the ANP, had joined the opposition and slightly better relations with the country’s army would have brought his party back in power. But he refused to do that. From the removal of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf to several important milestones, like consensus on the NFC Award and the Eighteenth and Twentieth Amendments, his party’s role was critical in helping the government accomplish some of the trickiest feats possible.
But then there is the matter of loss, too. Whatever passes for the liberal or moderate class in this country has remained unimpressed by Sharif’s extraordinary restraint and rational stance on various matters of critical import. Meanwhile, the radical space is gradually being cultivated by the PTI and other right-leaning parties. Within his own party, his own brother, the chief minister of Punjab and many other heavyweights have challenged his decisions, including his refusal to warm up to Rawalpindi and the far right. His speech at SAFMA, for instance, was viewed with contempt by some of his own party members. Likewise, his stance on the Siachen dispute and resumption of Nato supply routes were hardly celebrated by anyone.
Then, there are reactionary moments. His decision to take the memogate matter to the Supreme Court was seen by some as a desperate attempt to salvage a relationship with our deep state that has never witnessed a better day since October 12, 1999. The more critical ones, however, claimed that since the matter concerned Hussain Haqqani — the man who was incarcerated by the PML-N government before it was overthrown — it proves that hardly anything has changed in Nawaz Sharif’s mind and that when he returns to power, he will hardly do anything differently. But such criticism does not take the internal dynamics and the mounting pressure within his party into cognisance.
But one thing is for sure. His party has a proven voter base in Punjab, which refused to vanish even during the height of Musharraf’s rule and when we thought that sympathy votes for Benazir Bhutto’s party may put it out of a job. He has done a great job in Sindh and Balochistan. Even in Kashmir, where his party was created just before the elections, it accomplished what many thought was impossible. And above everything else, he has experience of running the country twice. If the current judiciary-PPP tussle does not derail the ongoing democratic process and the PTI fails to pull any big surprises, his party has a great chance of returning to power in the next elections.
However, while he comes out as a changed man, his party, in its own misinterpretation of public sentiments, refuses to change. This is bound to hurt nobody but the PML-N. It is time that Sharif senior reminds his party of his own significance and the fact that if the reactionary vote meant anything substantial, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal would have been ruling the country for the last 10 years. The fact of the matter is that Pakistani politics is still about personalities and his party carries his name in its title. Before he expects the country to change, he will have to prove not only that he is a changed man but also that he can transform his own party from a deep state-backed reactionary power to a force of greater good. Also, there is no harm in resuming good relations with Rawalpindi because Mian Nawaz Sharif is in an ideal position to help our military and establishment in transforming.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2012.
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