As the political storm led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri continues in Islamabad, the illustrious members of Pakistan’s parliament have rallied behind Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, supporting his belief that his position cannot be up for grabs. But saving the prime minister may be far easier said than done.
Sharif appears convinced of Pakistan’s inevitable downhill journey if he is forced out eventually. However, with or without his survival in the face of the country’s increasingly troublesome and treacherous politics, Sharif’s future as a relevant member of the power structure may have been compromised.
Parliamentarians from both sides of the political divide are backing Sharif on the grounds of preventing a dangerous precedent where a mob forces out a democratically elected chief executive. What is there to stop a repeat of a similar episode in future, goes the argument.
Yet, while there is no doubt that their concerns are valid, especially in view of Pakistan’s turbulent history, the broader context of Pakistan’s political realities cannot be overlooked. In the heat of the moment, many may forget an important aspect of the prime minister’s position in the power structure. The prime minister wears not just one but two hats, the other being the top leader of the ruling PML-N.
In over two months since the June 17 killings of 14 of Tahirul Qadri’s supporters in Lahore’s Model Town neighborhood, the ruling structure in the province led by Shahbaz Sharif conveniently ignored calls for the registration of police cases against key members of the local ruling structure. The fact that the onus was on the PML-N government to investigate the killings and take action was sidelined.
Without the storm now gathered in Islamabad, it was conceivable that those 14 deaths would be conveniently forgotten, and lost among the numerous cases of victims across Pakistan whose stories eventually fall into the dustbin of history. While the prime minister’s brother remained beyond reproach and Sharif maintained silence on the killings, the matter cannot be dismissed.
As the ruling structure scrambles to launch a political rescue mission by reaching out to friends and foes alike, the issue is not just about saving the prime minister and simultaneously saving a government that has been tainted by the Model Town killings. It is equally about the future of a party leader who appears to have done little when the moment of reckoning came on June 17.
Moreover, in the early part of his tenure, Sharif’s failure to tackle some of the worst challenges surrounding Pakistan is indefensible. Nowhere was the disconnect more obvious than the tail end of Ramazan. Sharif’s 10-day spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia was quickly followed by a five-day sojourn to Raiwind, conveniently detaching the prime minister from Pakistan’s mainstream challenges.
Notwithstanding Pakistan’s ongoing bloody battle with the Taliban militants and the scores of lives already lost in the fight, the record points towards a government in Islamabad with little capacity to lead Pakistan from the front in an all-out war.
Meanwhile, the PML-N’s failure to mount its own show of popular support in the face of the gathering storm is raising questions about its apparent inability to reach out to the grass-roots. Clearly, the much bandied about economic choices which remain a bedrock of the PML-N’s politics, have failed to ignite the popular spark.
During its first year in power, the regime has remained obsessed with the launching of one infrastructure project after another. If the plans conclude successfully, Pakistan will see more motorways, fancy bus projects and speedy urban trains, goes the argument from Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. Ironically, however, the matter of the crisis-stricken energy sector is yet to show a long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel as frequent power breakdowns and long hours of load-shedding take a toll on both industry and the people.
For the moment, it is difficult to precisely predict the final outcome of the turmoil. For Sharif’s political allies in parliament, saving Pakistan’s democracy appears to be synonymous with saving the prime minister’s job — and given the situation their stance is understandable. But judged from the many other vantage points, and going beyond the current crisis, the long-term view of the PML-N’s rule might be different.
It’s not surprising that both Khan and Qadri, now camped for more than a week with thousands of followers across the road from parliament, have managed to sustain crowds in Islamabad’s sizzling summer temperatures, barring the temporary relief brought by the intermittent monsoon spells. It is not just about Sharif’s future as Pakistan’s first ever prime minister elected thrice to the job. Equally vital is his record as leader of a party that has become mired in controversy after the Model Town affair.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English language newspaper. Click here to go to the original.