Time to come back

Published September 3, 2020

IN addition to the political necessity of his return, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif must now comply with the Islamabad High Court’s decision that he appear before the judges by Sept 10. The court agrees with the argument that Mr Sharif can no more be considered on bail and could well carry the absconder’s tag if he fails to face the law within the stipulated period. The PML-N’s first reaction to the ruling has been in line with its position on Mr Sharif’s stay abroad after the legal battle that had eventually managed to get him out of jail. The party says that “Mian sahib wants to come back … but he will only return after the completion of his treatment”. This is where the debate once more enters the complicated phase as alien-sounding medical terms clash with the legal lingo thrown in by the opposing lawyers.

However, the political choice before one of the country’s most popular and influential leaders — and one who is leading one of its biggest political parties — should be clear-cut: accept the challenge and return to take command of an opposition that has been stuck in a rut. Where the PML-N is concerned, matters have been allowed to stagnate for far too long and it makes little political sense for Mr Sharif to stay away, letting the entire ruling set-up comprising Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PTI and government allies take regular aim at a confused and divided PML-N. If this is indeed the right prescription for the PML-N, it is very likely that the Sharifs who virtually own their creation may not agree with the course. They might still opt for a tactic that keeps Mr Sharif secure and away from jail — a strategy that would be in conformity with its usual practice of playing it safe. In contrast, the new-wave PML-N advisers say that this old style is not suited to the current PML-N realities and the role that is demanded of it.

The legal and medical mumbo jumbo that surrounds Mr Sharif may protect the PML-N leader from the pains of incarceration. It may also give him and his closest associates, including his daughter Maryam Nawaz, some unwanted publicity as adventurers not really going for the target wholeheartedly. It is a mystery what deal had landed an evidently ailing Mr Sharif in London. That was then but of late it had appeared that Ms Nawaz, an echo of her father, had finally chosen to assert herself in national politics. Any step at this moment that appears to seek some kind of relief from the system under the incumbent rulers could come across as a sign of weakness to many in the crowd. The politically savvy would say this is a time for standing with and ahead of others against what the Pakistani opposition calls witch-hunting.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2020

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