THERE is no end to the twists in this family saga made up of jails, hospitals, vast sprawling estates and foreign dreams, with all kinds of characters and frills thrown in for effect. Mian Shahbaz Sharif has taken the story to the latest dizzying stage with a revelation about the hurdles in the long-awaited and urgently required treatment for Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif.
Here is a serious patient needing urgent medical intervention and his learned attendants are risking a delay — for whatever reason. There are serious issues with this explanation (to begin with) that could spark an unending debate about roles and responsibilities and blame.
But trust the good old younger brother for trying to be as convincing in his plea as he has ever been. Mr Shahbaz Sharif goes about building his case with typical emphasis on certain words. He wants everyone to believe that he is speaking on behalf of a man whose condition is seriously unstable.
“Mian Sahib was investigated comprehensively at Royal Brompton Hospital, London, for the present cardiac status and to determine the need for intervention,” reads a story in this paper by Amir Wasim which cites a statement by the PML-N. “The investigations revealed significant ischemic burden affecting major areas of heart and impaired function as well.”
The removal of as many Sharifs as possible, the point goes, would free the Imran Khan government to concentrate on development.
And then there is the real purpose of these technical details that another patient wanting some privacy would rather keep under wraps: “In view of the unstable state of health of Mian Sahib, Maryam Nawaz should be allowed to join her father. The more time is passing, the less is the space for intervention.”
Desperation begets desperation. Some of the reaction that this rather desperate-looking attempt at masterminding a long-distance flight for Ms Maryam Nawaz is reflective of the disastrous mindset in the PTI camp right now. One quote from a more vocal minister from the same story would suffice.
The worthy minister says that allowing Ms Maryam to leave at this stage would be like striking the last nail in the PTI’s accountability pledge. It couldn’t have been more damning than this.
It would seem that a large number of people had long got the drift. In various commentaries, it has been discussed how the government would be far better off dispatching the whole Sharif clan across the fence. The absence, it is submitted with a lot of reliance on common sense, would help the government claim there was a deal behind this escape by the former ruling family.
The removal of as many Sharifs as possible, the point goes, would free the Imran Khan government to concentrate on development. The government cannot be forever bogged down in the romantic ideal of holding everyone accountable for past deeds.
Frankly, this is not at all a new angle. The original advice to the PTI government had warned the party against having too deep an obsession with punishing rulers of the past. It is the prime minister who has, against counsel, steadfastly opposed all suggestions that might have found him extending favours to those facing corruption charges.
However, a situation where it seems that Mr Imran Khan has been forced to grant a reprieve has its own demerits. It has an element of surrender to it as opposed to a leader magnanimously, or simply proudly, agreeing to the departure of politicians under trial by invoking the old doctrine of ‘good riddance’.
The intended alarm in the latest statement by Mian Shahbaz Sharif signifies the beginning of another, stronger push by the PML-N to carry Ms Maryam Nawaz across the line. In the hours and days to come, the thrust is likely to intensify. More reports of a long silent Mian Sahib stubbornly shaking his head in rejection to all trying to persuade him to undergo a cardiac procedure we are told he ought to have undergone a long time ago, could increase pressure on the accountability-obsessed government.
Indeed the government may be too single-minded. This could spark some very tense moments in the emotionally charged Pakistani politics. If the past is any guide, a growing number of commentators may be swayed by the human side of it to call upon Prime Minister Imran Khan to make this departure.
Meanwhile, the discussion about whatever the PML-N needs right now — leadership, to start with — can wait. What can be guessed is that the task of repairing the party from abroad would be far more onerous this time round than it was two decades ago after the Sharifs were toppled and sent out by Gen Musharraf. It would require some special intervention, the kind of magic spun by Begum Kulsoom Nawaz back then.
We all know the privileged scribes amongst us live in a neighbourhood of their own. Among the other facilities that they enjoy, they have this luxury of falling back on their sources in the world beyond. Yes, they have the famous figures up there write to them, showing them the way out of blind spots.
These scribes get heavenly letters that can neither be denied nor questioned, and which enjoy the finality that can only be afforded to the dearly departed. Unfortunately, the facility is unavailable to the meek and timid, but something we cannot do without, suppose we were to today receive that elusive envelope in the mail? What would the contents of that letter be?
And even more importantly, who would be its sender — that someone important on the other side sufficiently moved by an event to write the long-awaited note? Like “Dear scribe. This is Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif. I hope you are doing well and still have enough motivation to occasionally report on voices that are closer to the more obscure versions of truth.
“I need your help to convey this message to Mian Shahbaz Sahib ... Next time could he please not mention my illness as he goes about appealing for Maryam’s presence by Mian Sahib’s side in a London hospital. Illness. Hospital. London. As an elder it is my duty to ensure that there are no unwanted comparisons between family members who have undergone or are undergoing medical treatment.”
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2020