There’s life and politics after jail

Updated March 15, 2019

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

MANY of you must have come across this guy who refuses to do what appears to others to be a perfectly logical thing for him to agree to in the circumstances. He is found everywhere, in all situations, staying adamant in the face of common sense, acting as the angry soul with a constant shake of the head for effect, without an explanation for his stubbornness that would sound immediately plausible to anyone around. The ‘main naa manoon’ or ‘I am not budging from my position’ type. Not quite Mian Nawaz Sharif — even when so many in Lahore today would be ready to place their beloved leader in the category out of continued belief in his innocence.

As one of them puts it: “We like ziddi (stubborn or headstrong) people. By turning down requests and pleas from all sides for him to accept a move to a hospital for treatment, Mian Sahib is proving that he is a force to reckon with.”

Mian Sahib certainly knows where he is going. And others who are pushing him in a certain direction have of late had greater purpose about them.

The now not-so-young PPP leader, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has a mission. He could well be doing the exact opposite of what his illustrious mother had attempted successfully some 12 years ago. She was chiefly responsible for convincing the Sharifs to return to Pakistan and to the power politics of the country in the run-up to the election that was scheduled for 2007, and which was eventually held, after her death, in 2008.

Much of the PTI’s energy is spent on explaining issues arising out of Mian Sahib’s imprisonment.

The current realities father the latest invention. BBZ is kind of in charge of a campaign that could eventually see Mian Sahib out of jail and into foreign lands one more time. Given the frequency with which the angina pain the former prime minister is said to be suffering from is making its appearances in the media, and given the insistence that it cannot be — can never be — treated at home, the lobbyists are aiming for a departure date in the near future. Say before the hot summer sun starts to beat down strong on Lahore?

The job, that would obviously have yet-to-be-disclosed personal benefits for the PPP leaders, puts BBZ centre stage in Punjab — even when Mian Sahib as prime minister was quite unwilling to see the PPP chairman, accompanied by his father. Now if the former prime minister did finally consent to a meeting, minus of course Mr Asif Zardari, we don’t really need the battery of ministers belonging to the PTI to reveal that the PPP and PML-N are doing politics based on Mian Sahib’s presence in jail.

As to what could this politics be about, what is more precious to a man in prison than the prospect of walking as a free man? And if this is what it is about, Mian Nawaz Sharif walking away to a distance where he and this country are relatively free of each other’s influence, what stops everyone around from calling it what it actually is: lobbying for a deal that would be beneficial for both the captive and his captors in the government.

Obviously, the theory dipped deep in pragmatic politics is that the government will gain by allowing Mian Sahib to go, if and when it becomes possible by intervention of the court of law. So much of the PTI’s energy is spent on explaining issues arising out of Mian Sahib’s imprisonment, the treatment for his angina being just one of them. The government may want to calmly think about the benefits in a new phase where he is no more around to lead the party. It will surely be very tough for Mian Shahbaz Sharif to hold on to the reins, notwithstanding the role he may be playing currently to get his elder brother out of this tight spot.

Much has been made of the silence of the PML-N second-tier leadership and its vast cadres over the affair of Mian Sahib’s medical treatment. The seriousness and the sensitivity of it all could precisely be the reason why not too many in the PML-N camp want to be a part of this discussion about the health of their leader. Even one unwanted line from them could disturb the sensitive balance against him.

If this is an imminent escape that is too much to bear for those who want this country to reinvent its system and its leaders, they may be in for a shock should they decide to conduct a survey of what Lahore by and large thinks about the possibility. Some of the well-placed observers in the city may want the PML-N to not fade away and they might agree with the point that Mian Sahib’s departure will be a setback to the party, which will now be more exposed to challenges from within and outside.

The truth is that there has to be a solution to the present moment of confrontation — there is no such thing as a final answer or the ultimate victory in politics.

Mian Sahib was put in jail and his party lost the election as the conclusion to the previous confrontation that he had with the PTI and Imran Khan. But that could well have been one result of a series of running battles between the two sides. There are and will be more battles to fight and more conflicts to be party to until one or both sides fizzle out. Mian Sahib as a veteran and BBZ as a true student of his father would know that. They will be hoping the faster his new opponent, Prime Minister Imran Khan, realises this, the better. He needn’t spend all his energies on minding who goes in and who comes out of jail.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019