Nawaz Sharif and his daughter are casting themselves in the revolutionary/resistance mode, especially after lately realising that they have little room to stay politically relevant.
This has become clear after the Supreme Court verdicts that have just been announced and the NAB court verdicts that are going to come soon.
Many existing and some older resistance models can be discussed that could fit the present Pakistani milieu and Nawaz’s future.
PML-N leaders are already calling Nawaz their ‘Quaid’ (leader), not president, just like MQM’s Altaf Hussain. So that would be one model to adopt.
Nawaz himself has been repeatedly throwing the threat of the Sheikh Mujibur Rehman model at his critics, just in a bid to scare them away. It is scary, and it means breaking away Punjab with the support of masses.
Though, what has always been in his heart but has yet to come on his tongue is the Erdogan model, which crushed the power of the Turkish military establishment through people’s force and settled the civil-military strife in favour of Erdogan for many years to come.
In development in recent weeks and months has been the Benazir model, being copied by Maryam Nawaz, who wants to present her father as the victim and seek popular support to forcibly push back the establishment, both judicial and military.
There can be other ways to resist but there is a basic structural flaw in the Nawaz case, which may not make him a revolutionary leader as such, though he may have popular support as of now.
Nawaz is not fighting for a genuine moral, democratic, constitutional or nationalist cause. He is neither fighting a dictatorship nor army rule. He is fighting for his personal and family survival
The flaw is that Nawaz is not fighting for a genuine moral, democratic, constitutional or nationalist cause. He is neither fighting a dictatorship nor army rule. He is fighting for his personal and family survival after getting caught with his hands and head in the national cookie jar. Those who caught him have the backing and support of the legal books and guns.
The best argument his daughter or supporters can make is that he is being singled out. For the moment it may look so but others are also getting into the net and, once confirmed that the net is catching all kinds of fish, across the board, this argument will be irrelevant.
The closest he can, and has, come to is to the MQM model where Altaf Hussain was the sole political authority in Karachi and urban Sindh until in one weak moment he fell and gave away his empire. That left his politics, legacy and future in tatters. His party got shattered to the point that it may not get back its past glory.
In a similar mode, Nawaz has challenged constitutional institutions protected by law openly and it is just a matter of time, sooner than later, that he would be held to account, as the mood now has become evident with the gloves off on all sides.
Altaf’s arena of operation was a homogenous whole with a single attractive slogan. Punjab cannot follow the MQM model as it is already divided into a large number of political, sectarian, and biradari enclaves, in addition to central, southern and local power centres. It is already a mess. An urban man convicted of corruption can hardly unite it.
No one with a sane mind would believe that the Mujib model could ever again be replicated in Pakistan, or specifically Punjab. Mujib was a traitor to Pakistan and a father of the nation for Bangladesh. For adopting that model, Nawaz will have to become an Erdogan first, control and crush the army, mostly from Punjab, and then think in separatist terms. He will have to align with Punjab’s neighbour India. This model is just a bogey.
To become an Erdogan, he has to perform which he has not so far. Erdogan grew from an ordinary man to a leader loved by his people who stood up against guns and tanks. Nawaz has never played that role. Conversely he grew up in the cradle of military dictatorships and prospered. By building a few roads and some showpiece overpriced projects he can impress some people, but he cannot change his name to Erdogan.
The Benazir model is also not doable for Maryam. Benazir became an icon of resistance to military might. Her father was hanged, party was broken, and husband jailed. She stood up in adversity not like Maryam, who grew up in palaces and even now publicly displays Harrods dresses and jewellery worth thousands, as if that raises her popularity and profile.
She may be considered a spoilt child, but where would she get political and democratic credentials like Benazir? Raising a few anti-judiciary or anti-army slogans does not make you a revolutionary while you still fly in private jets and live in palaces built by tainted money.
For Nawaz, the history of the last 25 years of leaders, presidents, and PMs ousted for corruption is not encouraging. Among a few of these disgraced men and women were Arnoldo Aleman, ex-president of Nicaragua who was sentenced to 20 years in 2002 (he looted $100m); Pavlo Lazarenko, the prime minister of Ukraine who was arrested by Swiss authorities in 2008 (he looted $200m); Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, the President of Tunisia (2011, looted $1bn to $2.6bn); Suharto of Indonesia (1998, embezzled $15bn to $35bn); Jacob Zuma of South Africa was just ousted by his party; Alvaroi Colom of Guetamala was arrested, disqualified and jailed; Brazil’s ex-president Loiz Lula ousted by his party for corruption; Brazilian Senate suspended and impeached President Dilma Rousseff and in the same year South Korean Park Geun-hye was impeached by the parliament; Iceland prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson stepped down after Panama Papers.
Not one of them tried to become a revolutionary or a victim. As Zahid Hussain noted in his Dawn column, “Notwithstanding Sharif’s newfound aggressive populism, it will be hard for the party to resort to a mass movement to get the court ruling reversed.”
The writer is a senior journalist
Published in Daily Times, February 23rd 2018.