“In the PM’s absence who runs the government?” — question posed in Sabir Nazar’s cartoon in this publication on May 31 over the drawing of an aircraft on autopilot. The question should also be posed as to who runs the government in his presence. No one can be quite sure about that as the autopilot has rarely been off. There is the close coterie of relatives (the Sharif empire chief accountant being the main actor) and beneficiaries of Mian Sahib’s well reputed dysfunction.
Numbers have been bandied around as to the number of days he has spent out of the country during his third tenure ‘running’ the country’s government and they are not insubstantial. Things chug along as they always have, inviting a failed state status which miraculously is perpetually avoided. How, being a mystery.
Well, we should wish him well with his health, as we would anyone who has to undergo what is now routine surgery, but to claim that the “whole nation” has been on its knees praying for his speedy recovery and return is somewhat over the top. Prayers and the sacrifice of countless goats and cattle have little to do with it all — it is the surgical skill and the efficiency of the hospital in his second home. That he has more than the wherewithal to finance his wellbeing is his luck — while millions of his lesser compatriots have little option but to visit, at their risk, the hospitals with whatever standard of care they provide in the country he supposedly runs. And besides, the “whole nation” is not in love with him. To millions it matters not whether it is he or Joe Blogs who sits atop them — their miserable sub-standard living conditions remain.
Of course, in his absence, the country misses the almost weekly (when he is here) inaugurations of various motorways, highways, orange and purple bus lines, mega projects that may never come to fruition, and photos of him and the army chief sitting, table between them, in gilded chairs, the chief firmly hatted and batoned, supposedly discussing ‘matters of mutual interest’ but the likelihood being that Nawaz Sharif is being told by Raheel Sharif what is what and what is not what.
Missing him also is the plethora of ‘lawmakers’ who have recently ‘demanded’ a 450 per cent raise in their salaries, perks, allowances (medical, travel etc.). As one lawmaker put it, “Members of parliament have constituency duties [when do they visit them?] travel requirements and other business [doubtlessly lucrative] to attend to … Members of parliament enjoyed a high standing in society [a fantasy], so they should get a pay that reflects this standing.”
Ziaul Haq’s political protégé has no qualms about being away from his native land. He flits around the world, as he did in his past two comings, with ease and comfort, providing joy rides at the expense of the odd one million tax filers to companions of his choice regardless of usefulness to the purpose of travel. His businessman’s instinct for the practical does not extend to the national exchequer. But that instinct is never absent from his mind when on foreign jaunts.
As recounted by Jamsheed Marker (Cover Point, OUP 2016) at the Rio UN Conference on Environment and Development in July 1992 — he was our ambassador to the UN — “Nawaz arrived as head of an enormous delegation of mostly freeloaders. They took full advantage of the salubrious air of Rio, explored and exploited its other attractions and therefore happily did not interfere with us in our work … (Sharif’s) attention remained devoted to issues other than the environment and development.” His famed attention span “remained as short as ever” but “he could be quick and decisive if the subject interested him, or more particularly, if it had a personal pecuniary interest”.
The Mian’s knowledge and comprehension of international affairs remains limited. So, they stand now firmly in the hands of the establishment which has its own worldview — with lingering outmoded longings for ‘strategic depth’.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2016.