The Nawaz Sharif and Model Town Lahore that I remember
Model Town, our heaven on earth, turned into a bickering field and political playground for every Tom, Dick and Harry.
The past is another country and my almost dementia-inflicted mind often fails me when faced with challenges of recalling timelines. I think it was back in the late 80s when my family and I moved to Model Town, a Lahore suburb and a remnant of the British Raj. Model Town was a classic, green and well-planned community that took pride in being a self-sustained and resident-funded operation.
At the time we moved to Lahore, we were not too familiar with Punjab, its politics or even our surroundings. Across from our house was a nicely paved, lush green, linear patch, informally known as the Nawaz Sharif Park. A mile away, eastward, was the circular, Model Town Park. Compared with the rest of Lahore, Model Town was an amazingly organised, beautiful establishment equipped with smartly lined up trees, a street light system and sidewalks that reminded one of the more advanced countries of the world.
Lo and behold, as we got ourselves oriented, we discovered that all the development that we noticed around us was the brainchild of the Sharif family. The Chief Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, as he was then called, lived in Model Town with his clan; a tightknit group, residing in seven, palace-like dwellings. Our little, colonial house stood about half a mile from the Sharif’s.
Those were good times. One would often see Nawaz driving around, without security detail in his shiny Mercedes, windows down and often waving at the residents with a smiley, pleasant expression on his face. Mian Sahib was a much younger but balding, vibrant soul then. He was a regular feature at the Lahore Gymkhana, playing cricket with his buddies and at the Race Course Park, jogging merrily and chatting with the older ladies whom he addressed as ‘Aunty ji’.
Likewise, I remember lights being turned on in the Nawaz Sharif Park in the wee hours of the morning so that the patriarch of the Sharif clan, (the late) Mohammad Sharif, could take a brisk walk with his entourage. In the afternoons, one would usually come across a group of young Sharif family kids out and about with their domestic staff in the neighbourhood. One of their cousins was a regular feature at the Model Town Club, playing squash in the cemented, open top squash courts. Every Eid, the Sharifs would hold an open house and welcome people of different tenor and texture with lots of generosity. I remember tagging along once with my dad and little nephew to one of those events. We were lucky enough to not only get close to Nawaz but my nephew was also given a huge hug and a kiss on his cheek by the then chief minister. I wish I had a taken a picture but those were not the days of smartphones or selfies!
Life even beyond Model Town was pretty good overall. Thanks to booming business activity, Lahore of those days was buzzing with activity. Under Nawaz, there was relative calm, crime rate was low, sectarian strife was negligible, educational institutions were generally peaceful, and the middle class still existed and thrived. Of course, just like now, Lahore being Lahore, everyone knew everyone – a small town that turned into a big city but still maintained its old virtues.
Meanwhile in Islamabad, things had changed a bit. Benazir Bhutto had taken oath of office as the prime minister with the dreadful Eighth Amendment still entrenched in the 1973 Constitution. With the army keeping a close eye and control on politics even after the exit of tyrant-in-chief, General Ziaul Haq, Nawaz and his camp decided to go national, a step that essentially signalled farewell to simple life and times. Nawaz, the hometown boy, was ready for bigger and better experiences. At least that’s what he and members of his coterie believed.
Beyond a certain point, the battle lines of a new political paradigm were drawn. Centre-province (the province in question being Punjab) relations were strained. Benazir-Nawaz confrontation became an everyday affair. Chamchas and chamchees of both sides hurled abuses at each other and the Sharifs turned into the biggest pain in the neck for Benazir and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Model Town, our heaven on earth, turned into a bickering field and a political playground for every Tom, Dick and Harry who previously claimed to be close to the Sharifs now kindled aspirations for political office.
Nawaz got what he wanted badly – he was elected as prime minister at the end of 1990. Not surprisingly, matters became complicated. While he promised economic prosperity to the nation, distribution of wealth, business opportunities, hefty government tenders, all ended up in the hands of his inner circle folks. These corrupt individuals brought bad name to the Sharifs as their popularity nosedived. Around that time, I left Pakistan and while I stayed in touch, I was told and felt that the Model Town that the Sharifs developed with their heart and soul was degenerating and had fallen into the wrong hands. Lahore’s socio-economic and political dynamics was no different than Model Town.
The decade of 90s was nothing less than a shameful political circus between Benazir and Nawaz. Nawaz was unceremoniously booted out in ’93 but made a comeback to the Prime Minister house in ’97, surrounded by leeches of the highest order. Looking from a distance, it seemed that his second stint was worse than the first, one that was too fleeting and obnoxiously mortgaged to the army’s whims and wishes. Frustrated, perhaps ashamed or maybe, intoxicated by power, he messed up matters with the generals. October 1999 saw him arrested and eventually kicked out of the country and exiled, supposedly for good. The local boy of Model Town ended up becoming the bad boy of politics.
Nawaz proved himself to be a tough cookie. He didn’t give up and came back to Pakistan in 2008 and did a darn good job being the leader of the opposition at the centre as well as running the province of Punjab. After several pitfalls and legal battles, the guy is back in the saddle as the prime minister.
Here’s where all the troubles start.
It appears that he’s lost his way. Almost a year and a half into his rule, he seems to be a lost puppy, faced with insurmountable problems. His popularity is nowhere close to the reasonable mark. No one likes him that much. People want him out. It’s unbelievable that he was elected through a general election. While he carries on stubbornly, not caring about what’s going on outside the walls of the Prime Minister House, lording over a broken infrastructure and a highly fragmented country, the ominous presence of the dharnas and the opposition calls of him stepping down must be ringing bells of disaster in his head. Or, maybe not since his last two exits were brutally unceremonious. A man with a vision or foresight may have undoubtedly done a better job planning a smarter exit strategy. He claims that he won the 2013 elections by a landslide margin but his opponents say that it was nothing more than a mudslide – a sad day for a country that’s already tottering and reeling under pressure of terrible domestic issues.
Nawaz must go. Seriously, he must. And I’m saying this as someone who has no political axe to grind. I’m telling him to show himself the door in a graceful manner as someone who saw Nawaz, the human, during my days in Model Town. It’s no use hanging by the thread and losing one’s dignity and self-respect. Let’s understand that every peak has its trough. Nawaz has had a great ride. Call him lucky, fortunate or just a good old opportunist, being the prime minister of Pakistan three times is no mean achievement. He’s achieved whatever he could have and he’s at a stage in life whereby he can retire peacefully, live comfortably, play with his grandkids and get some well-deserved rest.
Go home, Nawaz. I’m sure, unlike yours truly, the residents of Model Town haven’t forgotten or written you off. You can still earn back the trust of millions and perhaps think about doing some goodwill stuff. Join hands with Abdul Sattar Edhi and help him out with your boundless wealth and connections? How about using your abundant sources to bring Malala Yousafzai back to Pakistan and spreading the light of education to the darkest corners of the country? How about working on cleansing the society and culture from the scourge of corruption? Speak and act against religion-based extremism? Be an ambassador of unity? Work with India and spread the message of love around the sub-continent?
There’s a lot to be done and the good news is that Nawaz is not an ordinary Joe. All he needs to do is eject from the political can of worms and the world is his oyster. The sky’s the limit. With his 65th birthday fast approaching, it’ll be nothing but befitting that he gifts himself some long overdue freedom, freedom from the shackles of power that is slipping fast away from his hands. Nawaz should walk away. This is the right time to bow out and be remembered as a leader who left the scene in a decent manner. Despite all the hideousness, he still maintains the youthful demeanour. He can do a lot better than what he’s already accomplished. A little insight and sound, timely advice will help him. He’s got to trust his gut, tread back to his roots and rediscover himself.