THE politics of grievance that PML-N supremo and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been honing in his campaign-style rallies across the country is centred on a contrast.

Elected civilian leaders are ousted on one pretext or the other by the courts, while the illegitimate rule of military dictators has always been sanctified by the superior judiciary.

Mr Sharif is, of course, right. But the juxtaposition of civilian governments with military rule conveniently and self-servingly overlooks Mr Sharif’s historical role in propping up and defending military rule and supporting anti-democratic interventions.

A thrice-ousted prime minister, Mr Sharif is entitled to change his politics, and it is encouraging that the leader of one of the largest mainstream political parties in the country is now adamantly opposed to anti-democratic rule.

But Mr Sharif would gain more credibility if he were to publicly apologise for his own political past.

Arguably, had it not been for the brutal and society-changing dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq, the PML-N electoral juggernaut would not have come into existence, and a Sharif political dynasty may never have become a possibility.

Not once has Mr Sharif publicly denounced the Zia era or apologised for his role in sustaining it.

An apology would certainly matter. Zia’s brutal regime was neither the first dictatorship nor the last, but its pernicious effects continue to be felt across state and society to this day. Some allies of Zia eventually recognised their error and apologised for it.

The father of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Khawaja Muhammad Safdar, was a close ally of Zia, a fact that the son has publicly regretted on several occasions.

A willingness to acknowledge fundamental mistakes in politics is important because as the democratic process is once again under stress from anti-democratic elements, there are civilian politicians eager and willing to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Mr Sharif may denounce present-day facilitators and collaborators of anti-democratic rule, but without a sincere apology for his role in propping up the Zia era, his present-day fulminations against his opponents will appear to be little more than factional warfare among a permanent political elite.

It is also strange that while Mr Sharif is keen to remind institutions of the state of their role in anti-democratic interventions in the past and denounce them for it, he is unwilling to speak of his own political past openly and forthrightly.

A Sharif apology for the Zia era is needed.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2018

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