Non-expert defence

Updated 06 Mar, 2020

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

THE spectacle of a whole political party having to defend the right of an individual to stay abroad, for one reason or another, does not leave Pakistan. And as has always been the case, it does not make for pleasant viewing.

Every party has been here, since self-exile or living abroad ‘temporarily’ is something Pakistani politicians are very fond of volunteering when faced with trial and imprisonment. Poor health has often been a reason for delaying these politicians’ return to the motherland, but very rarely have the personal details about a politician-patient been revealed to the public as now. This leaves the lieutenants facing the media on their behalf in unfamiliar territory. They are routinely asked questions that are best left to the doctors.

The larger the party, the bigger the noise. You could have very little or absolutely no response to allegations about retired Gen Pervez Musharraf absconding from the law in the country. On the other hand, a party such as the PML-N must make sure that its reaction to the government’s actions, or even statements, are proportionate to its size and its desire.

Not an hour passes without a well-known PML-N politician, a kingmaker in his own right in his area, clearing his throat and then letting the world know just how keen he is to ensure his leader stays in London — for the time being and for medical treatment. In due course, this spokesman is replaced by another soul committed to equally loudly defending his leader’s right to the best possible medical care on the face of this unequal earth.

Self-exile or living abroad ‘temporarily’ is something Pakistani politicians are very fond of volunteering when faced with trial and imprisonment.

Having taken part in this 24-hour routine over and over again, someone from the Sharif camp then rears their head to speak words of common sense. The emerging argument is that there is no politics involved here and the discussion is purely about the medical condition of a gentleman, who happens to be a politician and a three-time former prime minister of Pakistan.

The statement is as true as you would ever expect coming from a political camp. Then why not have an expert deliver it to the government? Why not have a doctor talk about the reasons that are holding the very respectable Mian Sahib from honouring his original commitments?

Better still, in an atmosphere where Pakistanis find it very tough to trust other Pakistanis, why not have someone from among the British team taking care of the former prime minister explain it to the people here? A majority of us might believe the foreigner, but for the time being, we must have it on the authority of Rana Sanaullah and political quacks of similar grooming.

Rana Sahib is a fighter capable of punching above his weight. He can see himself and his leadership through the toughest phases with his sharp thinking. He can go on forever repeating that Mian Sahib is ill and will have to stay away from Pakistan for as long as his doctors advise. He can then, logically, defend Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s right to be by his brother’s side until the time Mian Sahib’s condition has sufficiently improved.

Rana Sana and others have been trying to do this as loyally as others before the PML-N — and other parties before them. Their act now is, however, complicated because of the technical jargon that has been allowed in this case. Pakistan has its share of famous people. Some of them unfortunately fall ill, but the kind of information that is available, supposedly, about the ailment of Mian Nawaz Sharif is simply something that will qualify the whole country for admission to a medical school on Mars. And this Nawaz Sharif knowledge pool is constantly expanding.

Both the women in government slogging it out over the issue of whether Mian Sahib went to London fairly in the first place happen to have medical degrees. They have been very efficient in generating mud; the federal contestant by far doing a much robust job of it than her older, Punjab competition. But as they serve their own brands of politics inside the party, they can hardly afford to entertain the thought of leaving the matter to the experts — otherwise, the mystery of how Mian Sahib managed to go to England would have been resolved by now.

There was so much flying around by way of explanation outside the hospital room in Lahore where Mian Sahib lay hidden from the public gaze, awaiting the authorities’ ruling on his fate. There were all kinds of politicians with their half-hourly bulletins, the jostling journalists trying to find a way around intimidating medical terminology, and then there were medical experts — doctors, if you will — who tried to make sense of what was going on inside. It is not too difficult to find the truth concealed in this pile, if anyone is actually bothered beyond indulging in a political argument here.

Unless you actually believe the bizarre fake lab reports theory, logic can get you the answers fast. You only have to eliminate the suspects — unnecessary and useless — from the relevant parts for a true picture of the patient’s condition here. Take out the political rhetoric. Take out the difficult parts where we journalists appeared to be clearly struggling with our very unfamiliar platelet counts as we reported on Mr Nawaz Sharif’s health. Next, take out all the sympathetic messages that had crept in from everywhere, most notably from the government side, as it increasingly ‘seemed’ possible that Mian Sahib might not have been well at all. Take them all out until you are left solely and purely with a medical opinion. There lies the answer to your question, whether it was a fraud or not.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2020