All in the family

Updated 01 Aug 2017


There is the letter of the law and there is good politics. There is recovering from a legal blow and there is doubling down on mistakes. There are the Sharifs and there is good sense.

In the days since Nawaz Sharif’s judicial ouster, the PML-N has hunkered down and devised a new political strategy: the rule of the Sharifs as far as the eye can see and potentially beyond. Or, as Saad Rafique has boasted, remove one Sharif and the party will bring a second, third and fourth Sharif to replace him.

It is a political party’s right to choose its leader and in the controversial circumstances of Mr Sharif’s dismissal, it was inevitable that the ousted prime minister’s preferences would dominate the succession question. But the utter myopia of the Sharifs is dismaying and politically worrying.

Three decisions the PML-N has had to make since Mr Sharif’s ouster and not one of them has been necessary or wise. The first is to instal Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as a stopgap prime minister. Why? Mr Abbasi and many of his colleagues in the erstwhile federal cabinet are perfectly capable of running the government until the general election scheduled for next year.

After all, the PML-N never ceases to remind the nation of its governance credentials and experienced team. The only, and obvious, disqualification of Mr Abbasi and his colleagues for being a PML-N prime minister for a day longer than necessary is that their surnames are not Sharif.

In the 70th year of the country’s existence, the party that usurped the name of the party of Mohammad Ali Jinnah is a nepotistic disgrace. The decision to summarily elevate the younger Sharif brother from Punjab to the centre is also politically problematic.

Shahbaz Sharif’s desire to play a role at the federal level has been well known in political circles for many years. But he was thwarted — and denied federal executive experience that could have proved useful today — because of his brother’s determination to remain prime minister and not have the distraction of a potential rival power centre in the federal capital.

He has been an MNA before, in 1990, but when he is likely sworn in as one again two months from now, it will be to a vastly different parliament and power structure in Islamabad. In truth, Shahbaz Sharif as prime minister is a political experiment that could spectacularly backfire.

Finally, there is the truly unsettling possibility of Hamza Sharif discarding his MNA robes and returning to the Punjab Assembly to take over from his father. Like the House of Saud, the House of Sharifs appears to be preparing for an intergenerational transfer of power.

Perhaps the only temporary grace is that Maryam Nawaz is not part of the immediate succession plans, though that may change. Truly, the Sharifs have morphed into something worse than the Bhuttos.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2017