The crisis coming to a boil
Next week is all that we have to wait for. It will all be over by then. The proceedings in the Supreme Court (SC) are already reaching their end and then the countdown for the verdict will begin.
Despite their sustained bluster N-Leaguers know that their goose is being cooked…on a slow fire and with the spit turning. That’s why in their most secret confabs, away from the public eye, prime ministerial alternatives have been discussed—in case Nawaz Sharif is disqualified, as looks likely from the JIT report and the course of the SC hearings.
Their lawyers have fought a last-ditch battle but from the weight of the evidence against them—evidence that no one thought the JIT would be able to collect—it is increasingly clear to most people that the PM’s neck is on the block. Nothing can save him, no amount of legal arguments, no last-minute letters from here and there. The time for such maneuvers is over.
My hunch is it is should be over by Tuesday or Wednesday, although it is never good policy to make firm predictions. The gods, who love a joke, have a way of upsetting such predictions. I will still stick to my hunch—I think it will all be over by next week.
From the alternatives being considered by the inner cabal or kitchen cabinet, those closest to the embattled and sinking PM, top of the list of replacement prime ministers is Begum Kalsoom Nawaz, followed by, if my information is correct, Khawaja Asif. If circumstances had not taken the course they have the logical and favourite choice for alternative PM would have been Maryam Safdar. But if next to Nawaz Sharif anyone has been mortally wounded by the JIT report it is Maryam.
Her chances of becoming her father’s appointed successor have been blown apart by this affair. It is not too far-fetched to guess that this circumstance would rankle the most in the PM’s mind. Her path to the succession seemed so smooth and almost pre-ordained. Now it has come to this.
Nisar’s nursing his anger is thus understandable. He figures nowhere in the succession list. And he’s always thought of himself as No 2 in the party, second only to the Man of Steel himself. If anyone resembles Cassius, of Julius Caesar fame, the most in the N League it is Nisar—complete with “lean and hungry look” and consuming ambition. Now as Nawaz Sharif’s time seems to be drawing to a close, Nisar suddenly finds himself with no suitable role to play. As this realization sinks in his mortification grows.
The cement which keeps the N League together is power. Without the talisman of power it is vulnerable to shifting winds. If Nawaz Sharif suffers a knockdown blow at the hands of the SC the PML-N will immediately be on a downward slope, regardless of any attempt to put up a replacement prime minister. There will be fissures in its camp with parliamentary members starting to think of how best to secure their local interests.
Nawaz Sharif’s basic problem has been a peculiar one. He was a creature of the establishment, made by the establishment and brought to prominence by it. The generals of the time wanted someone to stand up to the PPP and he fitted the bill better than anyone else. But then Nawaz Sharif forgot his roots. He forgot where he had come from.
In Oct ’99 he fell afoul of the army and was overthrown…and since then, despite staging a comeback and becoming prime minister again, he has never been able to get over that fact. He has never been able to forget his humiliation at the hands of the Musharraf high command. That’s why he has taken one wrong position after another: picking unnecessary fights with the army when his true interests lay in securing his flanks and not upsetting the army command.
The Musharraf treason trial made no sense at all. It was the wrong thing to do at the wrong time and the only dividend Nawaz Sharif got from it was tension with the army. Musharraf had turned into a forgotten chapter of the past but the army did not relish the prospect of seeing a former chief humiliated. Nawaz Sharif could never understand this.
Nawaz Sharif also got himself unnecessarily embroiled in the media war which broke out in 2014, standing with a media group against the ISI. It again made no sense. In the end it was the PM and the media group who had to back down.
Nawaz Sharif couldn’t make up his mind about the war against the TTP—the Tehrik Taliban-i-Taliban Pakistan—which was challenging the authority of the Pakistani state. When the army under Gen Raheel Sharif took up the challenge and declared war against the TTP, and when the army from there went on to confront a different type of terrorism in Karachi, Nawaz Sharif didn’t like that, because he felt he was being upstaged and his army chief was winning all the glory.
And just when Raheel Sharif was on his way out someone in Nawaz Sharif’s inner circle had to go and manufacture the Dawn leaks saga which again proved a red rag for the army. All this while there was Panamagate festering in the background and refusing to go away. Truth and courage might have saved Nawaz Sharif. But he was wanting on both counts and, besides, he couldn’t read the stars correctly. When this scandal broke no one in the PML-N could have imagined that something like the JIT report could ever be written. Nothing of the sort was anticipated, the dynasty confident in its ability to bluff its way past any or all questions and objections.
Look at it this way: Maryam, almost Trump-like in her tweets, has gone silent. This implies that not just Pakistan’s longest-ruling dynasty is coming to an end—which is the writing on the wall—but the succession question has also been erased. Everyone in the dynasty has been caught in different sets of double statements. More than any judicial verdict it is the exposure of the lies which is the true disqualification.
And it’s not just disqualification but other things closing in too: other cases and references that may arise and be sent to relevant courts for trial. And I checked up with PAT headquarters and was told that Pakistan’s one and only Sheikh-ul-Islam was awaiting the signal from his party to return. The Sharifs have done their best to bury the Model Town incident—14 dead from police firing and scores injured from bullet wounds—but it is not over yet. Somewhere in some hidden corner smoulders the Justice Baqir Najfi report and very soon demands that it be made public will grow louder. That will mean more trouble for the dynasty.
This is no script written in advance. As said already, no one could have anticipated what is happening. This has been an action movie in slow motion…nothing dramatic, nothing all that sudden but death by a thousand cuts, things slowly building up, one after the other, and now rolling to a climax without any great drumbeating or flourish of the trumpets.