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Making a big deal of the ‘deal’

Updated February 19, 2019

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The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

WHAT is the big deal about a ‘possible’ deal? The PTI can’t stop talking about it, but refuses to provide any details about who is asking for it and who is being asked.

The party is worried and this is obvious from its statements which are going from shrill to positively screechy. The division of opinion over the Public Accounts Committee chair going to the PML-N’s Shahbaz Sharif is a case in point. Part of the party refuses to accept that it is a done ‘deal’ and wants to revisit this ‘muk-muka’ — especially since the PML-N didn’t let peace reign in parliament when Finance Minister Asad Umar was announcing the economic package, despite what the PTI thought was a ‘deal’ for a peaceful session. If the opposition isn’t going to let the house run smoothly, why bother letting Sharif run the PAC, say the likes of Fawad Chaudhry, Iftikhar Durrani and others.

On the other side are peacemakers such as Asad Qaiser, Pervez Khattak and Shah Mehmood Qureshi — the oldies who believe in getting along with their own ilk. For instance, Riaz Fatiana, an old-timer who represents the PTI in the PAC says that there are enough experienced politicians in committee to make sure that Sharif doesn’t abuse his power.

For those on the outside, the battle is between the ‘traditional’ politicians and the new, nazriati ones in the PTI. But perhaps the division is not so simple because Sheikh Rashid and Fawad Chaudhry too are constituency politicians who have spent time in other parties before seating themselves besides Imran Khan. And yet they froth at the notion of any dheel, or latitude, to the N-League, while rejecting the idea of a deal altogether.

The PTI support base is upset with the leadership for playing footsie with the ‘corrupt’ ones in the opposition.

But the divisions within the PTI are so many that the tower of dissent within the party is hard to make sense of most of the time. However, cutting through the din, the noisy ones seem to argue that they are noisy because they have a core support base to cater to. The party support base is rather upset with the party leadership for playing footsie with the big, bad and ‘corrupt’ ones in the opposition.

For 20 years, the party’s raison d’être has been to oppose and provide an alternative to the corrupt ones from purana Pakistan. It is hard for the PTI jiyalas to now see its leaders trying to live and let live with the ‘purana paapis’ (old sinners), say the PTI dissenters. In other words, the noise is merely that: a bit of noise to reassure its supporters that all is not lost. It is to prove the PTI has not lost all its idealism as it travels on the dusty, old road of power politics.

But as time goes by, the denials are simply going to become shriller. Because from all accounts, the PML-N is getting some dheel, and this is becoming evident as time goes by. Already the PTI is aware of it.

For many within the party and the government, the National Accountability Bureau has been unsuccessful in holding the Noonies to account and no one can say for sure if this is by design or sheer incompetence — neither is in short supply in Pakistan.

Fawad Chaudhry called it a moment of reckoning for NAB when Sharif got bail recently. He wasn’t off the mark for the proceedings of the bail application didn’t show NAB in a good light. Take the case of the Ramzan Sugar Mills, in which Sharif was accused of misusing public funds to build a drain around a factory owned by his son, Hamza — the judge asked why Shahbaz Sharif had to be arrested when his son, the owner of the factory, was free. NAB seems to have failed to impress the judge who allowed the bail.

It proved to be no more competent in the Ashiana Housing case, where its star witness against the former chief minister was the same chap whose signatures were on the ‘incriminating’ documents.

No wonder that the PTI is wondering what NAB is up to and at whose behest. One senior PTI wallah railed about NAB’s case against Nawaz Sharif, asking why a prosecutor for the bureau in the trial court would tell the judge to google the value of the Avenfield apartments when asked their worth. Judgements by the superior courts have made it clear that in order to prove a case against an accused, prosecution needs to show that the value of the asset in question is more than what the accused could afford on his or her income — despite knowing this the prosecution did not provide the court the value of the Avenfield apartments at the alleged time of purchase.

Indeed, considering the ease with which NAB cases against the Sharif family are crumbling, we are all (not just the PTI wallahs) wondering at what is happening. The PML-N, on the other hand, is appearing more confident; its leaders are not averse to admitting they are hopeful of Mian Nawaz Sharif getting bail soon, too, on medical grounds.

The writing on the wall is clear. Dheel is already being given and it may soon turn into a deal. And the PTI is perhaps worried what its support base (which could barely control its anger at its leadership making nice with the PML-N for a little peace and legislation in parliament) will do when the Sharifs are free to move around while their cases meander slowly through the legal maze that is the justice system. Supporters will not come to terms with this, the leadership fears.

Perhaps this is why the leadership is obsessed with talking about the deal and is continually warning how the PTI will not agree to one or give one.

In other words, The PTI leadership is making a big deal about the alleged deal because it fears the day its supporters might think it opted for one. It’s setting the stage so that its anger and denial are real and plausible enough for the supporters, when the moment of reckoning comes.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2019