Foregone times

Published May 30, 2024

THE past, as they say, is a foreign country. It seems that the PML-N’s leadership has chosen to live there. Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the ceremony held this Tuesday to commemorate his re-election as party president seemed like a melancholic reminder of how much potential the seasoned politician has squandered in recent years. The occasion was meant to announce Mr Sharif’s return to business; instead, he seemed unable to let go of the past, which he ought to have realised by now he has no real power to change. His speech, like other speeches in recent months, dwelt at length on the injustices meted out to him seven years ago. He obsessed over people long gone, whom he blamed for spoiling his dreams of a more prosperous Pakistan. He also spoke extensively on a conspiracy allegedly hatched against him some 10 years ago by a military general in cahoots with his main rivals. But was the public listening?

It seems that Mr Sharif has missed the writing on the wall. His party has been in power for more than two years now, either directly or through its proxies. It is widely perceived that he has been running the show from behind the scenes: first via ‘remote control’ from London and then more directly from Lahore. The public expects a politician of his stature to have some kind of game plan to steer the nation out of the present crisis. It is jarring that Mr Sharif refuses to acknowledge this in his public messaging, nor does he share a vision for the future. Furthermore, Mr Sharif has conceded the moral high ground he took after his forced ouster in 2017 by so far tolerating an expanded role for the establishment in politics and governance. Will his resumption of control of the PML-N change that stance? Unlike his younger brother, the elder Sharif has traditionally sought more power and authority for the civilian government. If he asserts himself again, would this disturb the present equilibrium between the government and the powers that be? These are all questions that will invite much scrutiny of the role Mr Sharif is once again set to play as PML-N president. Lamenting the past won’t save Mr Sharif’s politics, but motivating the people and giving them hope may inspire renewed faith in his leadership. Is he capable of reinventing himself?

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2024

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