The ‘reluctant’ Prime Minister who had focused on finishing developmental projects and remained secluded even from his cabinet has all of a sudden turned into an ideologue pledging to transform the country on new constitutional contours. Nawaz Sharif is making big claims. He is talking about a new social contract and seeking a Grand National Debate to pave the path for that contract. He is talking about ensuring respect for the mandate of the people and ending the intervention of un-elected into democratic governance. Sharif is pleading the case of more than two-dozen Prime Ministers who could barely govern for a year and a half because of such interventions. He is talking about removing the ‘sleeper cells’ from the Constitution that have been used to overthrow elected Prime Ministers and send Parliaments packing. Sharif is not only talking big but also taking to the streets and mobilising public opinion. The four-day march starting from Islamabad and ending at Data Darbar Lahore had passed through the heartlands of Punjab. The question the former Prime Minister repeatedly asked was ‘why was I thrown out by judges’. He hinted in more than one way that the decision had been taken even before the trial started. PML-N does not have the capacity and the organization to sustain the mobilisation of rallies and marches till June next year when the tenure of the Parliament comes to an end. Sources say the party is also considering back channels, besides the review petitions, to get some relief in the upcoming accountability references. If they don’t succeed in these initiatives, they would be forced to either accept the fait accompli or go for a preemptive maneuver like early polls, even before Senate elections in March, so that they may campaign around their victimhood. PPP is dejected for a variety of reasons. There is a baggage of history. The 1990s witnessed the worst acrimony between the two parties. Nawaz Sharif started it by becoming a pawn of the establishment games when Hameed Gul launched the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad. Sharif became a major beneficiary when Benazir Bhutto’s government was overthrown in 1990. PPP sided with Ghulam Ishaq Khan when he got rid of Nawaz Sharif. When Pervez Musharraf toppled Nawaz Sharif government in October 1999, Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari were already going through the witchhunt unleashed by Mian Saifurehaman under Nawaz Sharif. Benazir Bhutto heaved a sigh of relief and even welcomed the overthrow of Nawaz Sharif. But later both parties found a common ground against Pervez Musharraf who was bent upon destroying both the parties. Both parties were instrumental in launching the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy as both former premiers stayed out in exile. In May 2006, both leaders signed a historic charter known as the Charter Of Democracy. The relations between both parties remained largely cordial with a few exceptions. After the return of the two leaders to Pakistan following the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and Benazir Bhutto’s tragic death, both parties settled their differences and became coalition partners after the February 2008 elections. But soon differences resurfaced on the issue of restoration of judges. During PPP’s government, PML-N sided with the security establishment and the judicial overreach of the Iftikhar Chaudhry-led Supreme Court each time Zardari’s government got under attack. During Memo Commission and several other instances, Sharif’s party fully supported judicial interventions by Chaudhry-led court. Earlier, Zardari government used the SC under Abdul Hameed Dogar to deprive Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif of power in 2009. Then, Nawaz refused to support the PPP to remove Zia era amendments to constitutional articles 62 and 63. Now Sharif ultimately has fallen to the same axe. When dharna 1 happened in August 2014, PPP gave the idea to the ruling party to fight it out through the Parliament. Despite a few provocations by Chaudhry Nisar, the party helped to create a firewall around the Sharif government. But soon after the dharnas were defeated, the ruling party went its older ways. The idea of ‘inclusive pluralism’ was forgotten and everything was done to please the security establishment after the dharna. That was the right time to safeguard the Parliament against future attacks and ingress by initiating appropriate legislation but the opportunity was wasted. When NAB and Rangers tightened screws on Sindh government, its ministers and officials, the dharna-weakened Sharif government chose to duck in or even attack the Sindh government through Chaudhry Nisar. June 16, 2015, was a watershed moment for the party when former President Asif Ali Zardari fired his salvos against the security establishment, then led by former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. Nawaz Sharif was scheduled to meet Asif Ali Zardari around that time but he cancelled his scheduled meeting with the former President. To add insult to injury, he issued a statement distancing himself from the speech of Asif Ali Zardari. After the ‘brick-by-brick speech conditions for Asif Ali Zardari got worsened. He had to stay outside the country till the tenure of the Sharif of Pindi came to an end. This backdrop must be kept in mind to understand the ongoing relationship between both parties. However, a lot has happened since then. PPP has been wiped out of the Punjab. Most of its electables have joined PTI. All efforts to revive the party have failed. But here is an important factoid. Imran Khan has not only attacked Sharifs but also Zardari. All goodwill gestures of the PPP have met a cold shoulder by the cricketer-turned-politico. Sindh government has been constantly hard pressed by NAB and Rangers for the last two years or so. Recently Sindh Assembly passed a bill to create a parallel accountability authority repealing the NAB Ordinance in the province. Now PTI, MQM-P and PML-F have moved a petition in Sindh High Court to strike down the new provincial law and the commission. The mood of the court doesn’t look too good. If the provincial authority and the law are thrown out, the PPP will be defenceless again. The question many are asking is: will such a situation bring Nawaz and Zardari together against the judicial overreach or would it force the PPP to sign the dotted line to appease the security establishment? Zardari would like to be a part of the power game. As much as his party leaders blow hot and cold against Nawaz Sharif, they would like to stay in the game as well. That is why many in the political circles are not taking Zardari’s angry statements against the Sharifs too seriously. Instead, the statements are being treated as hedging overtures. Nonetheless, the biggest hindrance in rolling out of the Grand National Debate is the trust deficit caused by politicians themselves. Nawaz Sharif has nobody else but himself to blame for cold response he is receiving on his new initiatives. There is no doubt the security establishment has constantly reduced the elected governments to props while taking over decision making in key security, foreign and economic policy areas. At the same time, the lack of statesmanship and bad governance has constantly put political parties on the backfoot. The latest factor is the role played by the PTI of Imran Khan who is pushing his party to repeat the 90s era to destabilise the applecart. Yes, the country needs a new charter of democracy to resume the unfinished agenda of the erstwhile Charter Of Democracy, but such a charter won’t fly with the people unless all parties tell the truth about their past, admit their follies, and chart out a new roadmap. Published in Daily Times, August 18th 2017.