A triple whammy hard to absorb

A triple whammy is defined in some dictionaries as three simultaneous deleterious blows with compounded effect. On Tuesday the Sharif family politics faced something even worse.

On the legal front the Punjab High Court released the Model Town report, which seriously implicates the Shehbaz Sharif government. Nawaz Sharif’s case in the NAB court took a direct hit when copies of cheques worth millions signed by the ousted PM written to his daughter were presented by a witness.

On the political side, Asif Ali Zardari gave the Nawaz set-up a lethal blow by practically joining hands with Imran Khan and saying he would see this set-up surrender “even before an interim government is formed for fresh polls”. That meant early polls.

Punjab was the political safe haven of the Sharif family after the Panama case shook its roots in Islamabad and pushed Nawaz on the streets and in the dock before courts. The Ali Baqar Najafi report, published after a long struggle by the Model Town victims, came perilously close to blaming everyone in Punjab for what it called “a massacre”.

Pages 74-75 of the report say: “The facts and circumstances of the bloodbath clearly show that police officers actively participated in the massacre. The apathy and recklessness ‘OF ALL AUTHORITIES’ in Punjab (emphasis added) created the genuine doubt about their innocence…”

Even otherwise it is obvious that Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif did not stop the massacre, which continued for hours right under his nose. His government then wrote the TORs for the Najafi tribunal and did not ask it to name the culprits, which it did not.

Law Minister Rana Sanaullah on Tuesday tried to exonerate himself and his government by arguing that no one had been named. The fact is no one was asked to be named. But no one got a clean chit either.

This report, coupled with the pending Hudaibiya case, has started pounding the foundations of the Sharif empire. Sensing a kill, PPP’s Asif Zardari has thrown his own barrel of diesel in the burning fire by clearly abandoning Nawaz and family and announcing that twice he saved Sharif’s democracy and now he will bring his own. But more ominous were his words that Sharifs would surrender ahead of the interim set-up.

This is what Imran Khan has been demanding, and pushes the two closer. Zardari has been cleverly trying hard for months to repair his relations with the security establishment, damaged critically after his “bricks” speech. To an extent he appears to have succeeded but he continues to woo the powers-that-be by trying to remain on their right.

With these developments and the NAB cases against Nawaz and family moving forward, though at a slow speed, it is becoming clear that Sharifs will lose control in Islamabad and in Lahore sooner than expected.

A meek Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is trying to walk the tightrope between the establishment and the Sharifs but may not be able to do so for long. With Sharifs under severe fire, he will either have to dump them or remove himself from the scene, thus paving the way for a new set-up. Both choices are difficult but inevitable.

With Zardari ready for early polls, as suggested by his speech, it looks a far cry that Nawaz will succeed to drag on until the March Senate polls.

The key question would be who heads the interim government and whether Abbasi, Zardari and Imran Khan agree on the names.

Apparently they are moving closer and pushed by the events, may agree on some names obviously suggested by the establishment. Many names are already in the market.

Then it would be for the higher courts to determine for how long that set-up should continue.

A positive aspect of this whole scenario would be completion of the accountability process, not for the Sharifs alone but across the board.

Published in Daily Times, December 7th 2017.