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Report card time

Updated Dec 25, 2016 02:52pm


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A YEAR of three halves, dominated by three men; it’s report card time again. And a middling year it was for all three.

Let’s begin with the chap who has left us: Raheel. The year started out great. He announced he’d go home on time and cleared the decks for a memorable final stretch.

But it never came.

Somehow, Raheel the Great became decidedly less so. And only going home as promised without too much public resistance saved it from being a truly terrible year.

Take a look at the three key interventions — and one that never came. On India, the non-action over Pathankot set the tone early and things unravelled quickly from there.

By the end, Raheel was sounding like an uber-hawk, railing against India in every forum and at every occasion. Balochistan, never near recovering, was sunk again on the India allegations.

Even where space unexpectedly opened, after the Wani killing, the shabby response exposed Pakistan more than it did India.

The talk of isolation that grew as the year wore on has many roots, but the catalyst was forcing the civilians to dredge up the Kashmir dispute in world capitals.

Civilian incompetence played a role, but the misjudging of the international mood was fatal — forget about Kashmir, tell us what you’re doing about militancy back home, the world basically told our emissaries.

It’s been a rough year and much of it self-inflicted — but Nawaz’s enemies failed to capitalise and so he’s ending it on a high.

On Afghanistan, the Mansour droning put an end to any chance of stabilising the bilateral relationship. If there was an area where Raheel had once seemed to want genuine change, it was Afghanistan.

But Raheel lost the argument with his generals and the policy didn’t change — leaving Pakistan on an angry east-west axis between India and Afghanistan.

Third was the trickiest beast of them all — civ-mil. Rare is the chief who has left amidst a self-created acrimony as Raheel did. The final weeks were a disaster.

But look back to earlier in the year and the Panama intervention. Then, with Nawaz struggling to deal with the Panama fallout, Raheel tightened the screws with the bolt-from-the-blue corruption-related army dismissals.

Was Raheel signalling the civilians had to clean up their act or else? But that’s the problem with ‘or else’: or else what? Raheel didn’t have an answer and nothing changed.

Fourth was the business he never got round to: cleaning up Punjab. Attempts were made after the Easter bombing, but the crumbling relationship between Raheel and Nawaz and the N-League’s violent opposition to opening up Punjab to the boys meant it went nowhere.

Grade: C.

On to the other half of the equation: Nawaz. It’s been a rough year and much of it self-inflicted — but his enemies failed to capitalise and so he’s ending it on a high.

The Year of Panama has hurt Nawaz and the Sharif brand. In this third term, he had tried to build the image of an elder statesman, of a leader above politics.

But the Panama Papers and the London flats have blown that apart. At every fumbling, embarrassing step of the way since Panama happened in April we’ve learned new things about Nawaz and his family.

Who they do business with, where all they do business — the tawdry sweep and evident impropriety of a business empire entwined with political relations and statecraft.

Combine that with eight consecutive years of rule in Punjab and Nawaz should have been vulnerable to defeat in 2018. But he isn’t yet — and for that you have to thank the rivals.

Raheel tried to press, but was ineffectual (see above). Imran did press, but was, well, Imran (see below). Between the two of them, Nawaz wriggled to triumph, ending the year in his strongest position since 2013.

November was the obvious turning point. Less is what turned it: Imran threatening, and then failing, to deliver.

The Isloo lockdown was a terrible idea, but it turned gold when Nawaz overreacted and the N-League went into full repression mode.

From there, even if Imran failed to dislodge the government, the display of authoritarianism by the N-League would have gained the PTI some sympathy at the very least.

But a divided PTI folded and an emboldened Nawaz turned his attention to the military transition. It looks good now, but didn’t for much of the year.

Grade: B.

And so — Imran. Good year or bad or just another lost opportunity? Maybe all three.

It was in many ways vintage Imran. Handed a gift from the gods — Panama — he tried to run with it, stumbled, ran around in circles and pretty much ends the year where he began.

At the heart of the Imran phenomenon is a bit of a mystery: he is relentless until he isn’t. He suddenly switches off for a while before, just as mysteriously, roaring back to life again.

By the summer it looked like the Panama opportunity was gone. Imran and the PTI were mired in meaningless negotiations with the N-League over ToRs and inquiry commissions, and the government was getting its swagger back.

But then Imran revived himself and, improbably, breathed life back into the fading Panama issue. Once again the national conversation became about the Sharifs’ great wealth and foreign possessions.

Momentum was with the PTI again — until Imran pulled an Imran yet again. The shambolic PTI on display since the Supreme Court intervention has turned attention away from Panama and back on the PTI and its many reversals and hype-without-substance politics.

It’s been a rough final stretch, but here’s the thing: the PTI is closing the year where it began, as the only realistic alternative to the PML-N, while Imran is still an obsession of Nawaz and co.

Not too shabby for a distant No 2.

Grade: B.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn December 25th, 2016

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (13) Closed

Syed F. Hussaini Dec 25, 2016 04:18am

It is a fight at the top between a few characters representing their teams and interests in an arena invisible to the alienated cordoned off confused spectators--the people.

Hammad Dec 25, 2016 05:56am

"crumbling relationship between Raheel and Nawaz and the N-League’s violent opposition to opening up Punjab to the boys meant it went nowhere"

What are we going to say if the world asks us again that what have we done to clean up the militancy? It is clear that Nawaz and N-league is not serious about it or else - something is not right ! PM Nawaz certainly did not put Pakistan first and I say Grade : F

davidcameron Dec 25, 2016 06:20am

And you Cyril, with all the razmatazz surrounding the epic leak of the minutes of the security meeting?

Grade A*

Merry Christmas!

asadlateef Dec 25, 2016 06:38am

This time the writer lacked in depth ground reality in regard to NS vs others.Recent election of local bodies chairmen and mayors shows more divisions in PTI,depicting people who matter in streets have something under their sleeves for their top leadership.

Pakistani in Berlin Dec 25, 2016 06:52am

got quite good money on this writing yeahh.

Khalid44 Dec 25, 2016 07:24am

So, how are the country's economy, health, education, debt, and international standing doing? Well enough? I suppose. Since according to you the country is doing great on all these fronts and Sharif is the best qualified to lead the country.

I wait with baited breath to hear your and your colleagues on these pages to asssess the country under the 'stewardship' of the Sharifs yet all you and they do is hurl brickbats at PTI.

That in of itself is must indicate that PTI must be doing something right to earn such close attention.

If only there was such microscopic examination of the Sharif clan but then that would be outside the envelope would it not?

Ash20 Dec 25, 2016 08:18am

Another gem from Cyril. Stay safe.

Dr. Atif Dec 25, 2016 08:44am

Cyril at his always. A great read.

Ather Malik Dec 25, 2016 02:37pm

Country is in a much peaceful state than it was when RS, took charge. We forget frequency with which we were experiencing one dreadful bombing after another. Given score on the card is relevant if judgement is on political machinations.General's brief i think you will agree was to secure the country and for that he gets a resounding A.

Ravi Dec 25, 2016 08:47pm

Mery Christmas Cyril. Dawn, thanks for protecting this gem of your team.

Muhammad Saleem Dec 26, 2016 09:18am

Raheel made it to the top through ranks in an established institution, The Armed Services of Pakistan; whereas Nawaz on Imran for the same matter, both were given B by the author in contrast to Raheel’s C, made it to the top without any required merits or in-party elections. One wonders where will they or their respective parties be once they are out of their current positions. Nawaz should have gone on his own by now, as have many others like him after Wiki-Leaks.

P BLR Dec 28, 2016 03:55pm

Grade A+ for your wonderful writing. Keep it up Cyril. We look forward of more A+ writing from you.

Ali Dec 28, 2016 05:55pm

Insipid and incoherent as usual.