Let’s believe there was a conspiracy — both a domestic one and a global one against the prime minister. But how is that a justification for a third time prime minister with the entire civilian state institutions under command, the best team of lawyers and a state media at disposal. And who could understand the anatomy of conspiracy better than Nawaz Sharif. Yet, the way he played (if he was actually the one playing) without a clue in the face of conspiracy means that the problem rests elsewhere. And it is about time one calls it a spade.
Succession issues and incompetence are the only conspiracies that were at play against the Sharif family. And it didn’t start from the Panama Leaks but long before when the heir apparent was chosen for succession — the PM’s removal was only a matter of time.
Handing too much power to the heir apparent sooner than needed and incompetence across the leadership, advisory and strategy level that failed to read the situation, and coordinate responses led to the crisis spiralling out of control. In Turkey too, there was a grand conspiracy last year to oust President Erdogan, did that end his rule? And it was only Erdogan’s first time facing the conspiracy. What justification then Nawaz has?
So let’s stop blaming the conspiracy because it’s politically convenient and takes the burden of responsibility off from your shoulders. It also reduces the need to introspect and masks the deep-rooted incompetence. As a democratically-elected prime minister if you can’t save democracy from conspiracies then you don’t belong to this office.
You see this conspiracy could have easily been avoided had the Panama issue and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) managed with maturity, internal coordination and timeliness.
Nawaz was surrounded by ministers and advisers, who most if not all had not read the JIT report, who saw the writing on the wall but kept feeding Nawaz a lie that he will get out of this. Nawaz had two types of advisers around him. One, who were too loyal and submissive to call out the truth at the displeasure of the former prime minister. And second, those that were more loyal to his heir apparent. This lot was not truly happy with Nawaz anyway because he offered no portfolio or ministry to either of them. Their best bet was not with him, but with the next in kin who would become the PM. Strangely, this was the lot that was representing the PML-N all over media. You see it was the premier in danger, yet the heir apparent without much experience and political acumen was the one calling the shots — an arrangement that was bound to be a disaster no matter what the relation.
The real conspiracy was that the House of Sharif and their team of advisers stood divided on their own agendas — albeit unconsciously and perhaps not by design. Yet, their narratives converged that kept telling the media on the one end and the former PM on the other end that he will be vindicated — surkhuroo as they liked to call it in Urdu. Some blinded in submission and others blinded by ambition — the advisors and the ministers around Nawaz and the heir apparent basically brought him down — not the courts, and not the military.
You see the problem is the structure of dynastic political parties in which upward trajectory is not based on merit and professionalism. It is not even based on loyalties for that matter because loyalty demands hard truths to be told, especially in times of crisis. It is actually submission that is required to climb the political ladder. When you surround yourself with people ‘submitted’ to you and others that see submission as a way forward, they are unable to provide you a wise counsel that you do not want to hear but you definitely need to hear.
The loyal and the true advisers would have called it a spade — told the former PM to resign pre-hand, take the limelight off, wait for a few years and return clean slate. Those in submission, however, would advise what they advised to Nawaz: forget about what the loyalists are saying, stay strong, go for a fight; and you come out undefeated — not because they thought it would end well, but because they knew that this line of advice would carve their space within Nawaz’s good books — at least in the next PM’s. Frankly, the Panama case for many in the PML-N was less about saving Nawaz and more about preparing the heir apparent — and that was where the strategies failed to distinguish between the two competing interests of competing groups.
What is believed to be a conspiracy is really just a big succession failure, incompetence and competing interests of the younger lot in the party that an undemocratic party structure and internal politics breed. The same supporters are now calling the court decision a judicial murder, throwing their support behind Nawaz Sharif, telling him to fight back. And fight back there will be. The PML-N will no doubt bounce back, and that too very soon, however, under only the banner of Nawaz Sharif, but without Nawaz Sharif.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2017.