PML-N on the brink of rupture?

Updated 15 May 2018


IT does not appear that the dust will settle quickly after the latest storm to hit the country’s political landscape and buffet civil-military relations.

Quite what former prime minister Nawaz Sharif intended to achieve with hard-hitting remarks about what he perceives to be fundamental flaws in the country’s national security and foreign policies can perhaps only be explained by him.

What is clear after his remarks yesterday to the media outside the Islamabad accountability court, where Mr Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, are on trial, is that he stands by what he said in an exclusive interview to this newspaper.

In the Buner rally later in the day, Mr Sharif appeared to up the ante further, if that were possible, by demanding a national commission to establish who has committed treason in the country in light of his comments about militancy in general and the Mumbai attacks in particular.

Mr Sharif’s hard line has drawn an unprecedented response from the National Security Committee, convened overnight at the request of the military leadership to discuss Mr Sharif’s allegations.

In effect, the PML-N government, senior ministers of which form one side of the NSC, has denounced its own party leader, Mr Sharif, in the NSC.

The contortions that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has had to perform appear to have driven the prime minister to breaking point. It is possible that Mr Abbasi, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and others in the PML-N will attempt to provide further clarifications overnight in a bid to try and minimise the perceived damage to the PML-N’s election hopes.

But what is already clear is that the PML-N is in an unprecedented situation: pulled in different directions from within and put under enormous pressure from outside.

A historic political rupture and the breaking up of the most dominant version of the PML in modern history could yet happen. The upcoming general election has been plunged into further uncertainty than ever.

Dangerous and bewildering political turmoil aside, the role of the media, particularly the electronic media, in India and Pakistan, has been deplorable. What Mr Sharif has alleged is not unprecedented and the Indian media’s reaction has been worryingly hysterical.

Wild allegations, over-the-top coverage and transparent misrepresentation and manipulation of statement created a frenzy in India that the Pakistani media felt compelled to respond to.

Certainly, tit-for-tat coverage is not what is expected of a responsible media in any country, but the freeze in bilateral ties between Pakistan and India appears to have encouraged coverage that is contrary to fact and reality.

Inside Pakistan, condemnation of Mr Sharif’s comments is the right of the public and the media. What is disconcerting, however, is the trotting out of allegations of treasonous behaviour and demands for summary punishments.

The media should support, not undermine, the rule of law.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2018