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Smokers’ Corner: Out in a flux

Published Nov 27, 2011 12:00am


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I  have developed a distant liking for what PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif has been standing for ever since his return from exile in 2007. In fact, I wonder, how can any democrat not agree with Sharif’s concerns regarding the military’s traditional interference in politics; or that Pakistan needs to not only strike serious peaceful postures with its neighbours, especially India, but we should also be willing to first concede our own follies before pointing fingers at outside forces for our ills.

Such are the thoughts that have made Sharif an ironic case of repulsion for the military establishment. It is ironic because this is the same man who, from 1985 till 1997, was considered the establishment’s most trusted and propped-up horse – until his second government was toppled in a military coup in 1999. Gone are the days when he was ever-willing to play the role of the the establishment’s civilian hit man, armed to keep ‘traitors’ like the PPP at bay and make sure that Punjab remains a bastion of establishmentarian maneuvers.

Sharif has been talking lately of his distaste for military regimes and interference, and his desire to construct strong economic ties with India, however, it does not mean that this is also his party’s stance. Just like any mainstream party anywhere in the world, the PML-N too has developed internal wings holding different opinions on various issues. For example, though the British Labour Party or the American Democratic Party are left-leaning, they have leftist, centrist and rightist tendencies within their folds.

The same is the case with the left-leaning PPP. Ever since its inception it too has had these three wings working within the party’s larger ideological framework. For example, just like the American Republican Party, the PML-N too has evolved into a democratic conservative outfit with a dedicated right-wing and (comparatively speaking) a more progressive wing. So if one keeps Sharif’s concerns in mind, it won’t be bizarre to suggest that it is this once hearty chum of the establishment who is now representing the progressive wing of the PML-N.

But it is still to be seen how much clout Nawaz and his band of men in the PML-N have compared to the loud wallop and numbers enjoyed by the party’s right-wing (Shahbaz Sharif, Saad Rafique, Ahsan Iqbal, etc.). Though it is normal for any big political party to entertain within itself various degrees of discourse of its central ideology, it is now becoming clear that this phenomenon has created a flux in the PML-N.

At the party's recent rally in Faisalabad, one could clearly see not all PML-N men were on the same page. PML-N’s right-wing wants its chief and his supporters within the party to tone down their anti-establishment rhetoric and concentrate more on bringing down the Zardari regime through civil disobedience. Sharif’s group however is comparatively reluctant because it feels that the fall of an elected government through such a movement may pave the way for direct military intervention and the complete sidelining of the PML-N.

Then there’s the Imran Khan factor. Sharif’s group insists that Khan is being propped up by the establishment (to dent the PML-N vote bank) but at the same time it is still unsure how exactly to tackle the Khan card; whereas the right-wing of PML-N believes that Khan can be trumped only by attracting the anti-Zardari vote through street agitation.

But if Khan’s PTI is a blob of rhetorical contradictions in which its leader jumps from being a macho anti-drone/ US/ corruption crusader to becoming a rather lily-livered backfoot punter when it comes to airing views about religious extremism, PML-N too is not sounding all that coherent. Whereas parties like the PPP have managed to rein in its diverse internal wings on a single platform on most issues, PML-N seems to have got into an awkward tangle.

For instance, during the Faisalabad rally when Chaudhry Nisar Ali spoke about downing a ‘pharaoh’, one wasn’t sure whether he was talking about downing Zardari, Imran or the ISI. The party’s right-wing likes to downplay the party’s near-panic status in the sudden wake of Khan’s arrival as a third force in Punjab. But dented by the economic and political failures of the PML-N Punjab government (mirroring the sloppiness of the PPP regime at the centre), the party just can’t help but end up exhibiting the fright it is trying to conceal.

That’s why PML-N’s Faisalabad rally seemed more like a plea than a boast. It was a plea to its electorate to stay with the PML-N because Khan’s rise was artificial and supposedly many of the economic failings of PML-N's government in Punjab are due to the ‘corruption’ of the federal government. This is making PML-N sound desperate. The only person that seems to be in the clear in this regard is Nawaz Sharif who is willing to seize a single line of action and thought, even willing to hold his horses till the next elections (late 2012/ early 2013).

But his influence within the party is being overridden by the right-wing hawks who are bent on finding a more boisterous way in the streets to push an elected government out of office. Clearly, these hawks, overtly stung by mischievous media taunts, Imran’s entry into the mainstream and the economic failure of the party’s government in Punjab, have become desperate and incoherent about what they stand for.

The only way I see PML-N regaining any lost ground in Punjab is by formulating a more coherent strategy, squarely revolving around Nawaz’s more patient and consistent disposition, focusing more on the long-term ‘enemy’ (the establishment’s maneuvering), rather than on a short-term goal of toppling an elected government.


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Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

SAM Nov 27, 2011 09:49pm
Paracha, This is the first time I agree with most of your article. As much as I despise Zardari, history has taught me that politicians should not pave the way for the military to take over an elected government even if its head is a corrupt man like Zardari. Despite being an ardent Khan supporter, I dont think Nawaz Sharif is all that bad.
Nasah (USA) Nov 27, 2011 11:29pm
If Nawaz Sharif is a true democrat as he is -- this is the time for NS to be seen with the 'civis' -- and let the Zardari government despite its many failings -- complete its term for the first time in the history of Pakistan governance.
smjamaal Nov 27, 2011 11:42pm
I agree with Paracha. Sharif's patriotism cannot be questioned. Why instead of supporting him people have started criticizing? Further there are huge claims about media of today. Being a scholar of Media I would like to suggest the press community that their claims of being independent, objectivity, freedom of expression etc wont work for the people. Only thing they want to do is being sensible and being understood of the current scenario. Like what Paracha said, to be the fourth pillar of democracy, it is our responsibility also to protect and gave the correct direction to the nation on issues of importance instead of doing business on them. MS-Media & Comm-IIUI MA-Eng NUML
Badar Nov 28, 2011 08:49am
It was a fairly balanced analysis regarding PML-N. Good job. I've not seen a similar analysis about MQM from NFP. Should we expect a write up soon? Charity begins at home.
Mahmood Nov 28, 2011 11:02am
Badar not only do I support you 100% on this but would also like to ask NFP how all political parties,including the PPP had not in some way or another from the military's blessings
Hina Nov 28, 2011 11:47am
The only article by NFP that I have read till the end..please stop ur pseudo sacrcastic/cynical pyrotechnical displays on the page and instead concentrate on writing balanced, thought provoking analyses which also suggest remedies, like this one.u've shown us that u can do it!
Abubakar Nov 28, 2011 12:42pm
Great analysis. There is no doubt NS has learnt from his past and striving for genuine democracy, and IK is going to commit the same mistake NS did 24 years back. So given this scenario, supporting NS would mean actually supporting democracy in this country, which i truly believe ... So my support for democracy, means I should support NS.
Masud Nov 28, 2011 03:48pm
Elections are not the only form of democratic expression. If a democratically elected government becomes grossly inept and corrupt then trying to topple it by street force is very much within the democratic norms. Of course it is only possible if opposition succeeds to garner the support of a big enough street force. Why do you think army must intervene in such scenario if it is done in a peaceful manor as is demonstrated by Egiptians. It should be relatively easier to succeed agaist a civilian government as compared to agaist a dictator. Fear of military intervention should not be a factor against going for a genuine democratic struggle where the goal is an other fair and transparent election.
Roamer Nov 28, 2011 04:49pm
The more important thing that NFP failed to highlight is that first we need to save our country, if there is no country then there is no point in talking about democracy or military rule. We should bring back the proud feeling of calling ourselves Pakistanis and become a proud nation. This unfortunately cannot be achieved with either Zardari or Nawaz, because we have seen their capabilities more then once and we know very well they will never change in the future as well. NFP may not like Imran but I think it is TIME for a CHANGE !!!!
Dr Omer Mallhi Nov 28, 2011 06:08pm
Dear NFP, I think PML(N) is playing a good cop bad cop routine with the elder Sharif acting as a good cop. They had plans of civil agitation to topple this Gov BEFORE March 2012 senate elections....and I am sure that this government also wants its government toppled but AFTER senate elections. IK has turned out to be a big spoiler for both and by the looks of it Establishment(Army) seems at best supportive and at worse Neutral towards him. Whatever the case is but the next elections are going to be ONE HELL OF A RIDE :).
Feroze K. Niazi Nov 28, 2011 06:48pm
NFP has developed a distant liking for Nawaz Sharif. How lucky can Nawaz get ? Coming from a blogger who never misses a beat to criticize, satirize anyone other than his favourite,the present occupant of presidency.
Saif Nov 30, 2011 07:22pm
@NFP: I disagree that Nawaz is now 'Totally anti-establishment'. Looking at his/their stance on the 'memo', if they really were against, they should have supported Haqqani in some way, infact they too were like the media-puppits passing judgements that he was responsible. Nobody's guilty until proven!! I am sure N is still bluffing & still a puppet in his own ways. Btw being your regular, i can see the point made!!
G.Nabi Dec 01, 2011 07:51am
NFP : Just out of curiosity - Do you believe Husain Haqqani would initiate such a damaging memo without the tacit approval of Zardari ? I think he was made a fall guy.
Aqil Dec 02, 2011 06:32pm
"It is ironic because this is the same man who, from 1985 till 1997, was considered the establishment’s most trusted and propped-up horse – until his second government was toppled in a military coup in 1999. The same is the case with the left-leaning PPP." The PPP is the new "trusted propped-up horse"...even if you will never admit it NFP!
mehmoona Dec 04, 2011 01:50am
to sum your article up... now anyone is ok as long as its not the 'khan'