We met last on the streets of Lahore in 2007, when for a fraction of a second all opposition forces in the country united against Musharraf’s military regime. At that time we came together not because Nawaz was a symbol of resistance but because we wanted to strengthen people’s alliance against the dictator and the civilian collaborators lending a façade of democratic credibility to his rule. For a fleeting moment, our dream of a democratic Pakistan and Nawaz’s opportunity for vengeance against the brazen dictator collided with history and after mounting a brief — but fierce — resistance, this alliance scattered and all participants of this struggle went their own way. Nawaz has never really had any pretensions about his knee-jerk instinct when it comes to politics. His story — which he often sites to remind the public why he joined politics — reeks of his privilege, the temporary loss of which motivated him to launch his career. His subsequent activities in the 1990s and his recent tenure as prime minister have only confirmed that he resolutely identifies with the Right of Pakistan’s political spectrum. His choice of Chaudhry Nisar as a Security Tsar suggests that he wouldn’t mind being a little authoritarian if he could. Policies enforced by his interior minister and his finance minister in their recent tenure speak volumes for the administration’s low regard for citizen’s welfare and liberties, when it is a question of enhancing the state’s security and surveillance apparatus. But even more telling is the stony silence with which his administration met demands for laws and policies which he should have, and could have, formulated when he was in office. How ironic it is, then, to see the ways in which Nawaz Sharif is trying to rebrand himself in the public eye as he gears up for his legal battles and for the election next year. His agenda is bigger than ever before, he recently said at Allama Iqbal’s mausoleum on Independence Day. He then specifically spoke of housing for the poor as one of his longstanding dreams and also about constitutional reform for social justice. How ironic it is, then, to see the ways in which Nawaz Sharif is trying to rebrand himself in the public eye as he gears up for his legal battles and for the election next year The bit about ‘housing’ is ironic because only two years ago, when thousands of families in Islamabad’s I-11 katchiabadi were evicted in a drive led by the Capital Development Authority, Nawaz, residing in the prime minister’s house not too far away, had nothing to say and instead let Chaudhry Nisar take charge of government’s discourse on this issue. This included demonising and criminalising Pakhtun families by falsely claiming they were ‘illegal Afghan immigrants’. The ‘constitutional reform’ part in his recent conversations can only be taken with a great deal of salt — because only two changes were made to the Constitution in his tenure. One provided judicial powers to military courts and the other changed the eligibility criteria for the appointment of the chief election commissioner. A reform package for Gilgit-Baltistan was also in the works but that was mostly to facilitate the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through the region. No thought was spared for those sections of the Constitution which are discriminatory, repressive and regressive — those which nurture hatred and bigotry and those which leave the public vulnerable to violence and oppression. What Nawaz is asking from us now is that we support him in his grand project to reform the Constitution so that there are safeguards against attempts to subvert civilian supremacy. “I was not an ideologue but the force of events made me so,” he confesses, and it plucks many of the right strings in the heart of a Pakistani progressive. His image these days serves as a visual reminder of the lesson we learned in Pakistan Studies about our country’s tormented democratic history: that no prime minister was able to survive a term in office. It looks as though we too will be telling the same stories to our children and their children. However, one must caution against such knee-jerk sentimentality and consider this: while constitutional reform is indeed due and the call for protection of democratically-elected civilian representatives is just, supporting such a position right now means voting for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in whatever form it is presented to us in the next election. A liberal vote for the PML-N in 2018 on the promise of constitutional reform is not inconceivable but this means putting up with the party’s illiberal leaders and their disciplinarian policies for another five years. This will not do. Nawaz will have to make a greater effort than taking a trip down GT Road to convince progressive sections of the society that he is sincere in his efforts for protection of democratic ideals — not just securing the prime minister’s seat one final time. Perhaps it is futile to expect this leopard to change its spots. And since other parties are not as motivated for constitutional reform as the PML-N, the mantle of this responsibility falls on us, the people of this republic — to build a movement committed to a fresh set of democratic ideals, never before tested in the political battlefield and free from the infections picked up by our leaders in the corridors of power. The writer is an editor for Vanguard Books and can be reached at @aimamk on twitter Published in Daily Times, August 20th 2017.