For PTI, the Nawaz Sharif nightmare continues
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has proven time and time again that it is lacking in both political acumen and the ability to rise above petty politics. When Nawaz Sharif was given bail by the courts and allowed to receive medical treatment, it was a blunder on part of the PTI to link the removal of Nawaz’s name from the exit control list (ECL) with a surety bond. While some are attempting to dilute Nawaz’s illness down to a political stunt which has been carefully crafted so that he can escape abroad, the fact remains that Nawaz is in a critical situation and if his health is impacted as a result of any untoward incident, the PTI government would simply be unable to bear the brunt of such a catastrophe.
The federal cabinet has failed to be of much service for Imran Khan in this regard since their advice to conditionally remove Nawaz’s name from the ECL has driven the government towards a dead-end. It was always expected that Nawaz would not accept any written or other assurance of going abroad and, as per expectations, he has refused to go abroad on the condition of submitting a surety bond. This has once again not only shown his defiance but will undoubtedly garner greater sympathy for him in his electoral fort of Punjab. After the courts allowed Nawaz to receive treatment for his disease, all the government needed to do was remove his name from the ECL, and hence avoid this entire fiasco. Instead, it appears that Imran has once again chosen to be on the wrong side of history by trying to satisfy his own vendettas against Nawaz in an attempt to convince his vote bank that he is not allowing Nawaz to travel abroad unless the former prime minister submits a surety bond. Perhaps through this stipulation Imran and his cabinet were hoping to create the impression that Sharif was pleading to go abroad. That move, unfortunately for PTI, has backfired.
However, reportedly, ever since being diagnosed with an immune system disorder, Nawaz has been refusing to go abroad. The powers that be asked Shehbaz Sharif to convince his brother to travel abroad because they were fearful of just how quickly the political discourse could change. It was Sharif’s family pressure on him that finally played a role in convincing him to go abroad for the treatment. Thus, only those with a rather poor grasp on Pakistani politics would be foolish enough to think that Nawaz would plead with the authorities to let him leave the country. Certain whistle-blowers in Pakistan’s power corridors believe that the powers that be wanted Nawaz to sign a written agreement that he along with his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, will not participate in politics till 2023 and, upon his refusal of this offer, the demand for a surety bond was put forth. If the whistle-blowers are to believed, then it is evident that the establishment and PTI are once again underestimating just how defiant Nawaz is. If he can come back to Pakistan to present himself for arrest and even spend more then a year in prison without pleading for any NRO, it is evident that he will not bow down before the current government, especially in light of the popular narrative which has emerges in his favour. Ultimately, if Nawaz’s health does go south, no one will question the powers that be, which is why PTI will be left alone to shoulder the blame.
The failure to remove Nawaz’s name from the ECL is all the more perplexing given that Zulfi Bukhari’s name was removed from the ECL list within hours while the likes of Musharraf, who abrogated the constitution and was facing a treason case, is not only living abroad but was also allowed to draw money from his frozen bank accounts. Imran could have gotten ahead of this brewing nightmare had he had the political wisdom to not only visit the ailing Nawaz but to also unconditionally remove his name from the ECL. This would have done wonders for Imran’s image and would have swung the narrative in his favour and shown him to be a leader who holds no personal ill-will towards any political prisoners. Instead, Imran and PTI now find themselves being painted as petty politicians who are unable to rise above their personal enmities. Clearly Imran missed a trick here. Perhaps Imran could learn the subtle art of objective politics from someone like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain who, despite being an arch-rival of Nawaz, has advised Imran to allow Sharif to go abroad for the treatment.
As far as Nawaz is concerned, he holds a political constituency and leads one of the largest political parties in the country, so he has everything at stake in Pakistan and will always return to the country at any cost. The PTI government has made a blunder of this issue and now they will have to reap what they have sown. Given Nawaz’s politics of resistance, he has evidently chosen a very difficult path which now demands that he should not seek permission to go abroad and continue to ensure that public opinion keeps shifting in his favour.