The last stages of desperation
The N League wants to take this as a tragedy on a par with the sacking of Bhutto on that fateful July 5 1977. But to judge by the Sharif clan’s reaction to its troubles this looks more like a comedy.
I couldn’t help laughing when I saw Maryam Safdar performing outside the Federal Judicial Academy. She had obviously rehearsed her lines well and there’s no quarrelling with the fact that she is very confident, as anyone would be who with a straight face and a sweet air of innocence could tell Sana Bucha, when she interviewed her for Geo, that what to talk of property abroad she owned no property in Pakistan. You have to be confident to pull off something like that. Her performance on this occasion was thus entirely in character.
And it has to be said that she is very svelte…graceful and stylish. Her brothers compared to her look like fresh arrivals from the local ‘akhaara’…the pitch where wrestlers practice their art. Hamza and Salman—the Khadim-i-Aala’s bright boys—can eat their hearts out. Hamza can have himself photographed as much as he likes looking thoughtful and with his fist stuck under his chin…a la Allama Iqbal. But he will always remain a Punjab boy. It doesn’t take much clairvoyance to see that Maryam will be the new face of the Sharifs when this whole thing is over, and if her father suffers anything like disqualification.
We should know what to expect: a great beating of the drums to prove Nawaz Sharif’s innocence and portray him as the victim of a sinister conspiracy. The PML-N’s politics will revolve around the theme of his ‘martyrdom’ and his ‘services’ to democracy. We just have to wait and see.
The JIT will be the end of just one chapter. The scene will then shift to the Supreme Court and after that—if Nawaz Sharif’s proverbial luck finally runs out—will be the martyrdom tunes, with Maryam Nawaz in the lead and the other claimants to the Sharif throne, like the Khadim-i-Aala and his ambitious sons, trying to smooth their ruffled feathers.
This is the best case scenario for the Sharifs. The worst case scenario will be for the party to break into several factions, with some elements heading, as happens in Pakistani politics, for greener pastures.
One division in the PML-N is already visible. Looking the most agitated and shouting the largest is the group close to Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. Included in this group are the three musketeers: Dr Asif Kirmani, who is always very amusing, Talal Chaudry, always good for a laugh, and Daniyal Aziz, dubbed by his friends, as you would have guessed, Denial Aziz. This attack team answers to the Princess Royal or the Dukhtar-i-Qaum, Maryam Nawaz.
The attitude of the other branch of the family has been more restrained and guarded. The Khadim-i-Aala while saying a few things here and there—as for instance his recent remark about only one family being targeted for accountability—hasn’t really frothed and foamed at the mouth. Nor has he spoken of any conspiracy although his loyal lieutenant, Rana Sanaullah, keeps touching on this angle.
I am not saying that two rival camps have sprung up in the PML-N. But we can see different levels of agitation between the two branches of the family. There is a reason for this too: Nawaz Sharif’s children are named in the Panama papers. The offshore companies and the London flats pertain to them and the main task before the JIT was to unearth the connection, if any, between the children and the father.
Shahbaz Sharif’s name crops up when it comes to the money-laundering charges stemming from the Hudaiybia Paper Mills case—the one in which Ishaq Dar turned government approver and spilled all the beans about the Sharif family’s alleged fake bank accounts to transfer money abroad. His name does not figure in the offshore companies. This is a vital difference.
Sensing how the JIT investigation is going, and no doubt realizing how weak and full of holes their legal defence has been, the prime minister and his family seem to have taken a major decision: to politicize this case and play the various cards of victimization, conspiracy and martyrdom.
Maryam was in charge of the PM House’s media cell—a favoured project on which billions were spent from public funds. Everything indicates that she is the guiding spirit behind the aggressive approach adopted towards the Panama investigation, the very virulence of this offensive suggesting that Nawaz Sharif and family have lost all hope on the legal front.
The PML-N as a party is not a party to this decision. No organ of the party has been consulted. No meeting of the parliamentary party has been called. This is the decision of the inner leadership, the core of the family enterprise, and what you would expect from your serfs or tenants is what the leadership expects of the party. Such is the way of Pakistani politics.
Justice Khosa was not all that wrong when he compared the Sharifs to the Sicilian mafia, the only difference being that there is greater democracy in the mafia than in Pakistan’s political parties. In the mafia major decisions are taken after consultations between the various bosses. Even in the army corps commanders are consulted. In the PML-N and the PPP decisions descend from above.
The next few days will be hectic. The interrogations, most of them, are done. The JIT, we can well imagine, will be working far into the night to compile its report which has to be put before the three-member bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan. Then I suppose the original five-member bench will mull over the report—that’s my understanding although I could be wrong.
A miracle may save Nawaz Sharif but he and his immediate family now expect the worst…otherwise Dar wouldn’t go so red in the face and other PM House vocalists like my friend Dr Asif Kirmani wouldn’t be shouting so much.
There is one common thread in all this anger and shouting and that is Imran Khan. A Sharif loyalist may begin his rant from anywhere but he has to end it on Imran Khan. He is riding on their nerves because the Sharif family knows that that but for him the Panama storm buffeting them would not have assumed the shape it has.
A year ago who could have thought that things would come to this pass? The one person to have a presentiment of the future was President Mamnoon Hussain. In April last year when the Panama affair first broke he said this was a visitation from the skies and many eminent names would be caught in its web.
This is proving to be a scorching summer for the Sharifs but let’s hope it turns out well for Pakistan. Our political stables stand in dire need of airing and cleaning. Maybe the Panama case fulfills this purpose. In any event, one fear can be laid to rest. Any adverse decision against Nawaz Sharif will lead to no commotion or disturbance. We should know our political parties. The PML-N is a party of power, not a party of opposition. It knows how to crack the whip when in power but agitation and resistance have never been its favourite pastimes.