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GT Road journey: to what end?

August 13, 2017

LARGE crowds, fiery speeches and a professed desire to return to his home in Lahore aside, Nawaz Sharif’s journey down GT Road has not revealed a sustainable or credible political strategy. Was Mr Sharif merely venting to a sympathetic audience, the PML-N base, or does he have a programme in mind that can help stabilise the democratic order in the country? Mr Sharif has drawn criticism for his increasingly blunt attacks against the superior judiciary, and more specifically the Supreme Court judgement that ousted him from the prime ministership last month, but there is substance to his allegations. Few independent and credible jurists regard the specific reason given by the court for Mr Sharif’s disqualification as having set a good precedent that will survive the test of time. Moreover, as Mr Sharif railed at his various rallies along GT Road, the overall history of a judiciary that has ruled against elected governments but never against military dictatorships is a sign of questionable democratic priorities.

Yet, Mr Sharif’s arguments are weakened by the reality that he and his children are to face accountability trials under the supervision of the Supreme Court. Is, then, the belated public commentary by Mr Sharif about the ills of the judiciary merely a way to put pressure ahead of trials that could lead to the imprisonment of Sharif family members? Curious also is Mr Sharif’s reticence when it comes to addressing the role of the military in periods of democratic upheaval in the country. The ousted prime minister has largely limited himself to attacking his former nemesis, Pervez Musharraf, or making historical references to the role of the military in undermining democracy. In the present-day context, Mr Sharif has only made vague allusions and indirect references. That too raises a question: is Mr Sharif simply hoping to a cut a deal with the military leadership rather than truly wanting to correct the civil-military imbalance?

The decision to nominate Mr Sharif’s wife, Kulsum Nawaz, as the PML-N candidate in the NA-120 by-election is also a confusing choice. Ms Nawaz demonstrated formidable political skills during her tenure as PML-N president between 1999 and 2002, steering the party through existential danger and helping win Mr Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif their freedom. But is Ms Nawaz returning to politics simply to ensure that control of the PML-N will eventually pass from Mr Sharif to their daughter Maryam? If so, it would be a disservice to the very cause of democracy that the PML-N claims it is trying to serve by highlighting the institutional biases in the country. The fever pitch that the PML-N has taken politics to in recent days is unsustainable if indeed elections will only be held at the end of the current parliamentary term. Is Mr Sharif simply playing to the PML-N gallery with no real plan in mind?

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2017