The morning in Lahore was quintessentially smoggy. As if the day mirrored the hazy information the citizenry had regarding Nawaz’s exit with his brother. What do we really know other than the relentless TV channels’ reporting, describing what we were seeing on screen — the entourage was moving, wheels were turning, air ambulance was ready, and the flight was going to London. When TV mimics radio, in that one could listen and not watch it, it’s safe to assume the people are being duped.
As for the permission granted to Nawaz, media noisemakers can put their spin on it but if it looks, swims and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. It was an NRO-lite, to give the benefit of the doubt to Imran Khan. Nevertheless, with all the anti-NRO claims, Nawaz flying in that plane looked more magical than Zakoota and his aides flying on handmade carpets.
Khan didn’t give Nawaz permission to go abroad for better healthcare without a fight. Otherwise, his finger-waving reminders to his opponents about never giving an NRO would prove false. The bulwark created for Nawaz in the form of indemnity bond, despite being rejected by the Lahore High Court (LHC), benefits the PTI because Khan can wave his finger again and claim he didn’t give Nawaz an NRO and the court let him go. It must not be confused in the entire haziness that Khan gave the green light for Nawaz to go. The LHC objected to the indemnity bond condition. It wasn’t the court that allowed Nawaz to leave.
On the other side, the PML-N camp told us that Nawaz had reluctantly accepted to go abroad for treatment. The platelets count story had been in the media for a while to help the citizenry internalise that perhaps Nawaz should be cut loose after all. Nawaz’s camp argued he would return after his health improves because he returned to face prosecution and prison time. And that his health shouldn’t be used for political gimmickry.
After some back and forth and the convenient donning and doffing of political and legal dress codes by media pundits, finally we saw the Qatar Airline bird parked on the apron. In that air ambulance, the conclusion inside Nawaz’s head might have been as hazy as the day in Lahore. However, now the gamble is on. If Nawaz returns swiftly and shows his supporters he truly went to seek better healthcare, his legacy and more importantly his party lives on, proving him a fighter instead of a runaway coward.
However, if Nawaz stays abroad indefinitely, then that is cause for concern, not for PTI, but for PML-N’s future. Khan will continue asserting he was always right about what he calls a thief family. There would be practically nothing that Nawaz and his aides would say and do that would convince the people. Remember Ishaq Dar’s pictures of being sick in bed can’t do the trick. That has been exhausted. Just as right now, people can smell the NRO, Nawaz has no room for cheating or cheat meals.
If Nawaz does not intend to come back then it would be a rare moment Nawaz and Khan would be on the same page. Khan knows that Nawaz’s refusal to return would ensure his political demise more easily than anything Khan could possibly do and is simply waiting and watching Nawaz commit political suicide.
Will Nawaz return and keep his legacy alive, which could potentially help his daughter or nephews become the country’s leader since dynastic politics is what we unquestioningly welcome? Or will he choose the easier path and not return until he knows there is a sympathetic khalai makhlooq? That is to say, until next time.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2019.