Doctors in democracy

Updated February 01, 2019

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

DOCTORS are being put to the test in Lahore these days. They have to come up with a medical report on Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif that is acceptable to all. A tougher examination you wouldn’t wish on those who have meted out the worst possible treatment to you.

Already, there have been a couple of teams that have tried to scale this mountain but failed. The reports of these teams, apparently made up of doctors with otherwise the most valid and modern qualifications, have been deemed inconclusive. A new board, the third one, is now assigned the task. It comprises six expert doctors from the most reputable institutes for cardiology. They examined the ex prime minister, nearly 70, on Wednesday and are expected to submit their report soon.

The latest team of doctors put together for Mian Sahib’s examination is called the larger board if anyone had any doubts about its capacity. It seems like a very democratic decision when maybe what was needed was some quick decision-making by a specialist well versed with the subject to rule out any complications.

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Apparently, the supposition is that by including specialists from all these institutes, it will be easier for the board to reach an agreement on the line of treatment that has to be followed in this case. There is an assurance by a Punjab minister that the government will accept the advice of the board. The magnanimous minister has declared that the government will accept the expert word now even if it requires hospitalisation of the former prime minister.

The angry Sharif detractors do not appear to understand that dealing generously with one’s enemies is also an effective means of winning hearts.

The minister says that the government was ready to work on the recommendations of the two previous boards that have now been made redundant because of the constitution of the third — larger — team of doctors. There’s no reason for anyone to doubt the official sincerity here but of course a few statements from the government could have been avoided to prevent any controversy making an appearance.

Consider, for instance, the same minister’s statement in which he gave the PML-N leader’s admirers the good news that 10 of the tests that Mian Sahib had undergone had shown him to be in (near) perfect health. But he did spoil it all for his side when he acknowledged that there was an 11th test as well, which didn’t quite live up to the healthy profile the good-intentioned minister was so keen on creating for the former prime minister. Only a good man like this no-nonsense Punjab cabinet member could have stopped declaring a 10-1 defeat for Mian Sahib here. Instead, he agreed to refer it to another set of doctors, lest anyone objected.

Seriously, it is small betrayals along the way such as these which compel the cynics in Lahore to insist that this issue will never be fully resolved — for one, because it runs much deeper than a mere medical board is capable of resolving. For example, the larger debate, mostly sustained by the PTI supporters, is about whether Mian Sahib deserves any special considerations in any area including medical care as a three-time former prime minister of this country. For a large number of Pakistanis, to be tackled just like an ordinary prisoner must be part and parcel of his punishment.

Already quite a lot of criticism has been heaped on the concerned authorities over suspicion that they have been in any way lenient in their handling of Mian Nawaz Sharif as well as ex chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif while they are held in Kot Lakhpat jail. In the eyes of their more hardcore detractors, they must be held like ordinary citizens, denied of any facilities that would make them in any way more privileged than other inmates or undertrials. The noisy demands entail breaking of an old quiet pact between politicians who required those in power amongst them way to look the other way as some of their contemporaries now faced with incarceration were dealt with with a light hand by the jail authorities.

Also a threatened tradition is the one where joint across-the-board greetings would sometimes come in the way of an under trial lawmaker brought to the house on the orders of the speaker. In Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, in his role as speaker of the provincial assembly and as a more conventional politician, has tried to keep it cordial when MPA Khwaja Salman Rafiq was brought to the house recently.

Islamabad, however, is another story. There, any effort of the kind on occasions when Shahbaz Sharif is brought from jail to the National Assembly as a man elected by thousands in his constituency is simply drowned in the sheer hatred the man is able to generate among his peers on the other side of the divide.

Similarly strong sentiments are on display in the tone of those who have the heart to call for no special allowance for Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif when it comes to their medical treatment. These angry Sharif detractors are out to exact a price from their targets for their past mistakes. And they do not appear to belong to the tribe which understands that dealing generously with one’s enemies is also an effective means of winning the hearts of the people at large.

The detractors appear to be too blinded by rage — perhaps overcome by a vengeful feeling? — to believe that the grant of any ‘concession’ to the Sharifs here will add to their own standing as human beings who are not lacking in the basic public-service quality, of being compassionate. It will be a little too much to expect such niceties from members of this very vocal — and extremely loud — group, who have been quite blatant in their proclamations of punishing the guilty with a ready stone in their hand.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2019