Pakistan 25 kilometres

Updated November 08, 2019

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

MIAN Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has been shifted to his Jati Umra estate. A special intensive care unit has been set up for him at his residence where doctors are going to provide him 24-hour care. This ends the suspenseful 16-day period during which Mian Sahib was treated at Lahore’s Services Hospital. His health bulletins, just too many to say the least, have constantly created panic among Pakistanis.

There was always a strong group that urged him to leave the country for better medical treatment abroad. Jati Umra, some 25 kilometres from the Sharifs’ old family house in Model Town Lahore, could well turn out to be equally out of bounds for PML-N workers.

The talk has not died down. Mian Sahib’s shift from the hospital to home hasn’t quite diluted the dire scenarios about his health condition. Idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura is not allowing his platelets count to stabilise at an acceptable level. The Punjab government ministers say that he is out of danger, but his principal doctor has been quoted as saying that the PML-N leader might need some advance genetic tests.

These tests, we have it on the good doctor’s authority, cannot be carried out in Pakistan. Thus, there’s a very real possibility that he will have to be taken abroad. It is common knowledge that there is only one man standing between Mr Sharif and a flight to London: he himself.

There’s a clear divide in the PML-N which cannot be concealed by the calls that nothing is more important than Mian Sahib’s health.

Bets are being placed in Lahore about who is going to accompany Mr Nawaz Sharif abroad, should he, finally, give in to the passionate pleadings of those around him.

There are reports that Mr Shahbaz Sharif could find himself escorting his brother eventually, even when everybody has been rightly pointing out that the assignment of looking after Mian Sahib best suits his daughter Ms Maryam Nawaz who is another recent beneficiary of bail. She had to submit her passport to the court officials as her bail was approved, which is being interpreted as a sign of how difficult it would be for her right now to think about any foreign travel. But can she really be ruled out from going out in the near future.? Once things start to unravel, is anything impossible in Pakistan?

The champions of reconciliation are out to help the Imran Khan government. In Islamabad, as the PTI’s own ministers prove rather ineffective in convincing Maulana Fazlur Rehman to end his dharna, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi emerges from the shadows to play the chief negotiator on behalf of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Likewise, Mr Pervaiz Elahi’s old comrade, his partner in crime, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, also breaks his silence on political issues the government is faced with.

Chaudhry Shujaat offered the most succinct and flattering remark about Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in which he congratulated the JUI-F chief on emerging as the real leader of the opposition, over and above those heading the PPP and PML-N. Also, he has called on Prime Minister Khan to use his powers to clear any official hurdles in the way of Mian Sahib’s departure abroad. What is more, the Q-League veteran has managed to win approval for his proposal from such senior names in the area of politics and law as S.M. Zafar.

For a large number of PML-N workers, the source of the uncomfortable zone they find themselves in is not just reports about Mian Sahib’s falling platelet count, although they are really worried about his health. These workers’ concerns are multiplied by the fact that they are unable to see or hear from either Mr Nawaz Sharif or Ms Maryam Nawaz.

There’s a clear divide in the PML-N which cannot be concealed by all these calls that nothing was more important at this moment than Mian Sahib’s health and all other matters needed to be deferred indefinitely.

The loudest of these calls for concentrating solely on Mian Sahib’s health happen to belong to Mr Shahbaz Sharif, who is known to be a more cautious and more pragmatic politician by nature, and who has pursued a more defensive policy ever since Mian Sahib was dislodged from power in July 2017.

This adds to the visible unease among those PML-N supporters who are not ready to accept the leadership of anyone other than Mian Nawaz Sharif, through his own person, or through his choice as his successor, ie his daughter. This is the message clearly conveyed by conversations involving PML-N well-wishers as well as remarks on social media.

Reports predict that silence will prevail in Jati Umra, at least for some time. Over the last fortnight, Mian Sahib has remained concealed from public view, his attendants protecting him diligently. He was not allowed meetings even with such heavyweights as Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mr Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Some time into his hospital stay, Ms Maryam Nawaz joined him and she has been as elusive to those kept on the edge without a word from their chosen leadership for such a long stretch of time.

Not a single line of direction, of blessings for workers, has escaped from Mian Sahib’s room for long. It is worse than it was during his incarceration when some kind of a statement attributed to him would find its way out of the thick prison walls to cause a splash in the media. All that the PML-N workers can cling on to for good luck in the circumstances is the last ‘big’ statement by Mr Nawaz Sharif in person in which he strongly backed Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s march on Islamabad.

The void that exists between that statement and the current PML-N stand of, at best, maintaining ambiguity over the maulana is disconcerting for those upset at the forced absence from the scene of the Mian Nawaz Sharif plank within the party. It’s as if Mian Sahib and Maryam Bibi have already been shifted to a land 25 kilometres away from Pakistan.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2019