MR Nawaz Sharif has received some intense flak from an unexpected quarter — his friends and mentors in the so-called ideology-of-Pakistan camp. The affair has exposed the mindset that is the principal cause of the state's perpetual crisis and the people's unending misery.
On the eve of Independence Day, the PML-N chief said in a seminar on Pakistan-India relations that the two countries had lost much by indulging in an arms race. It would have been better if matters had not led to the building of nuclear weapons. Both countries needed peace and a settlement on Kashmir, but for this they would have to move away from their 60-year-old 'stated positions'. Expressing his goodwill for some Sikh guests from Amritsar in the audience he said he shared with them many attributes of culture, including places of origin, food and dress, and a common Provider (Rab). Rab
There was nothing in this speech that Mr Nawaz Sharif had not said earlier or to which anyone could in fairness take exception. But he became the target of a heavy barrage of friendly fire. Of all people the Jamaat-i-Islami chief poured scorn on him for deviating from the two-nation theory. Aha! A leading Urdu daily editorially wondered about 'the state of his mind in which he did not realise how much he had lost in terms of his future politics by being extremely lyrical in praise of Bharat, the eternally deceitful enemy'. He was viciously censured for referring to shared cultural norms and a common and for asking Pakistan and India to give up their traditional stand on Kashmir. Finally, he was told to apologise to the people and seek God's forgiveness for his speech if he wanted to stay in politics.
The redoubtable Mian was visibly rattled by this 'criticism in the harshest possible words' as he wrote in a personal letter to the editor concerned. He pleaded that his remarks had been torn out of context. He explained that while telling the Sikhs that he worshipped the same Rab that they worshipped he was following the Quran that defines Allah as Rab-ul-Alameen (Provider for all the worlds). He did not say that he worshipped the Bharat gods.
This explanation and the clarification issued by a PML-N spokesperson did not satisfy Mian Sahib's critics. For instance, a columnist in a paper friendly to him wrote that he had been trapped by an 'organisation of pro-India intellectuals and journalists', that had earned its keep by 'getting him to plead Akhand Bharat's cause. But Allah Mian's cow is in such trouble that it is not possible for her to escape by even breaking the tether. If Mian Nawaz Sharif's explanation of the speech was a masterpiece of an apology being worse than the sin, by arguing in defence of his puerile stand his interest-inspired courtiers are sparing no chance in making a sacrificial lamb out of him'.
The storm will blow over soon. Mr Nawaz Sharif and the professional vendors of ideology will make up because they feed on each other. The prosecution seems to have achieved its purpose; Mr Nawaz Sharif will in future think twice before rubbing shoulders with anyone denounced as unpatriotic by his guardians.
The affair does not end there. The issues in debate are not a personal matter between the PML-N leader and the snipers. Mr Nawaz Sharif is a politician of national stature. The possibility of his returning to power cannot easily be dismissed. If he can be bludgeoned into retreating from a sensible stand by an inquisitorial band, the country's politics and the interest of the state are bound to be adversely affected. Besides, a large number of Pakistanis face the dilemma that has caused embarrassment to Mr Nawaz Sharif, that is, the difficulty in reconciling a particular interpretation of the faith-based polity and the two-nation theory with the imperatives of peace with India. And on a rational resolution of the self-created contradiction depends the future of Pakistan.
Mr Nawaz Sharif manifestly believes in the politics of interest, not of belief. He wants as much cooperation in trade and business with India as possible. He knows the value of personal contracts and cultural affiliations in the marketplace. He has told the Indian leaders in public and in private meetings that he wants the Kashmir issue settled and justice done to Kashmiris but he will not go to war on this issue nor would he like the process of normalisation slowed down for any reason. He has also realised that democracy, with all its flaws and shortcomings, offers the only way to the country's survival and progress, and he has lately been opposing military intervention in politics.
One might call this part of Mr Nawaz Sharif's split personality good or soundly based because peace with India was a rational policy in the past, and today it is a prerequisite for the survival of a democratic Pakistan. Every Pakistani believes that the Kashmir issue must be solved but also knows that it will not be solved in the foreseeable future and certainly not through the adventurism of this brand of militants or that.
The other part of Mr Nawaz Sharif reveals him as hobnobbing with all kinds of anti-democratic elements in the religious parties and elsewhere. There is no harm in practising religion or maintaining closest possible relations with the Saudi princes, but there is every harm in letting any cleric, domestic or foreign, dictate political choices. Mr Nawaz Sharif would only sink into the marsh of bigotry if he did not find the courage to tell the born-again advocates of the two-nation theory that whatever the theory was it was dropped by the wayside by the author of it himself 64 years ago.
He might win short-term popularity by being soft on militants but he will not be able to go far by befriending religious factions that make no secret of their resolve to use democratic institutions and mechanisms (such as assemblies and elections) to demolish democracy. There is no inherent difficulty in being a good Muslim, a democrat and an advocate of friendly relations with India on the basis of equality and mutual good. But the contradiction between a religious polity on the one hand, and democracy, good business and peace with India on the other, cannot be resolved.
The choice before Mr Nawaz Sharif is clear: he could go for power regardless of the compromises he makes contrary to his own thinking and interest, or he could be his own master while qualifying as a politician committed to the good of the people. The choice may be solely his but the bills will come to the community.