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Report card time

Updated December 25, 2016


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