Whatever lies ahead

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

WHATEVER lies ahead or went before, the IJIC inclusion of Nawaz Sharif’s family’s offshore assets as revealed in the PanamaLeaks, at a fortuitous but blessed moment for the political opposition, has culminated in his local political disqualification.
Diligent digital research yielded other Panama-originated leaks featuring sundry plutocrats – in drips as it were. Indeed an international basket of politicians has been highlighted by the ICIJ, so it doesn’t seem as if Nawaz Sharif was being targeted or a country prioritized for scrutiny by extra-territorial watchdogs. The leak was, however, a veritable tsunami of good luck for Imran Khan who had not been able to achieve his declared and entirely altruistic end of getting the ‘corrupt’ Nawaz to go despite a fiercely sustained battery of charges of election-rigging; state brutality; to say nothing of dharnas, lockdowns, jalsas, rallies and vehicular marches.
It is rather intriguing that although similar – if not precisely these very – charges have been sifted in internal processes of political accountability, they failed to nail Nawaz Sharif down. Was there some magic glue in the PanamaLeak watermark that made it stick? Or is that a decade of the flawed, false, sham, rigged, democratic process is teaching us all by trial and error to get better at our jobs? Or did we just need an Imran?
One could also argue that the rubric of those charges had too wide-ranging and general an application: Unwelcome collateral damage could have been inescapable. PanamaLeaks gave a keen sharp individualized focus. Yet it was not a personal prism for the menu had passed the equivalent of the ISO standard politically: It was after all not cooked up but drawn up, by a disinterested world body of conscientiously concerned professionals watching out for supreme national interests in the region. Self-respecting Pakistanis could not look the other way.
The matter was taken to court and observed and analyzed almost daily for the people in the spirit of enlightening patriotic philanthropy that is the PTI’s hallmark: National wellness has to be tended. Next to cricket, Imran Khan is devoted to health, and of course, education and the environment. He has dedicated himself to the cause of educating the electorate on how to vote the umpire-free way for a healthy democratic environment. And a good cause is like a magnet. Spokespersons from many parties that have parliamentary relevance chose to back Imran’s preferred mode of extra-parliamentary entirely legalized redress. It seems Party leaders regard Parliament a non-starter as a political engine unless they are at the helm. Nawaz Sharif stayed away from it most of the time even then. To be fair, most of our political leaders are happier using street power or media power and leaving the legwork when it comes to giving PMs the boot not to a vote in the House but – in this case – the judiciary.
And the judiciary did it. Nawaz Sharif is no longer the PM. He has not been banished but he has been sentenced to formal lifelong political limbo. And despite all the alternative accommodation at his command, he may wind up living in jail.
So where does this leave or for that matter take us, Pakistan’s electorate? We wish we knew. Most feel the rest if not necessarily the best is yet to come.
For now, the PML(N) retains its parliamentary majority. There was not enough instant defection – another example of politicians lacking foresight? After not that long a gap as to become embarrassing, and one that can also be taken as duly deliberative, Khaqan Abbassi was nominated and obtained the requisite votes to lead the House and function as chief executive (Musharraf has been taking up so much cyberspace that his terminology for job description comes to mind).
Disqualified, Mian Nawaz Sharif showed unexpected political and personal dignity to begin with. During the leadership makeover our most-recent-of-former-PMs stayed low-key, but seemed nothing near obliterated and annihilated. The party he had led to the fore made it clear they were deferring to him and he was calling the shots. In the case of a solid democratic mandate that had yet to expire, this makes party sense. It was also good party politics for him to mingle with people publicly and demonstrate that the PML(N) parliamentary standing still reflected constituency response level. Whether Nawaz Sharif’s informal, segmental, popular endorsement was primarily spontaneous or choreographed is a silly question. Parties are supposed to organize and facilitate mass contact. There was nothing that seemed to have been feigned or insincere about the ambience among the crowds. And if a political party benefits from incumbency it also faces the ongoing litmus test of performance.
But if he employs the thundering blustering rhetoric that stokes populism and characterizes demagogues he may lose rather than consolidate and extend his support base. Democracy is not confrontational, it is gently purgative. He cannot go to the extreme of asserting charges of corruption are groundless. Their electorates forgave the PPP, the MQM, and the PML(N). But forgiveness is not exoneration: they forgave with a view to improved performance.
NA 120 is but a single seat; but an epic contest. Defeat there will resonate nationally, but a by election is not definitive the way national elections are. Should Dr Yasmin win it does not make Imran Khan PM. He, as someone puts it, ‘will have to be wait’. And we still do not know how the opposition will play it out in parliament. If there are enough resignations and MPs leave the ship that hasn’t sunk to sink it, we are back if not to PanamaLeaks square one a political cauldron of uncertainty. That is a state a country under external pressure can least afford. So familiar are the points at issue and the faces in the scheduled NA 120 by election that it is hard to see why the parties most concerned need any campaigning or speechifying at all. Albeit the PPP has been offstage there and is fielding a fresh face. Could it shock everyone?
One thing though is sure about NA 120 as well as the whole nation: We all pray for Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s good health and reunion with her family.