. . . . . .  

Those whom the gods wish to punish, they first make cricketers and then prime ministers. Both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have played cricket and politics. They have won and lost. They now share the unenviable distinction of having been ousted from the same perilous post, the prime ministership of Pakistan — Nawaz Sharif thrice (in 1993, 1999, and in 2017) and Imran Khan most recently on April 10, 2022.

Each owed his position in part to the bullet box. Each was forced out when he dared to exercise his constitutional authority beyond limits defined by others.

Nawaz Sharif spent years of exile in Saudi Arabia and in London. Throughout, he remained head of the PML-N — the ‘king across the waters’ — a supremacy assured by his loyal Bharat-like brother Shehbaz and indefatigable daughter Maryam who stayed behind.

Imran Khan’s children live in London but he is unlikely to join them. Such a flight, however innocuous, would be misconstrued by his detractors. Lady Luck has deserted him. He plans to stay in Banigala, denied power but within tantalising reach of it.

Nawaz Sharif is 72 years old, Imran Khan three years younger. Is it too early to write their epitaphs? What does the future hold for them?

For Nawaz Sharif, the charms of being a prime minister for a fourth term have palled. For him, four is one too many. He will return to Pakistan to satisfy his self-esteem and to occupy the nation’s presidency. By dissolving the National Assembly with unseemly haste, Dr Alvi compromised himself. He will need to be extracted, to vacate Aiwan-i-Sadar for Nawaz Sharif.

Some may recall that in December 1997, following the resignation of President Farooq A. Leghari, a plan had been prepared for Nawaz Sharif (then prime minister) to become president (the lethal Article 58 (2) b was still in force), and for Shehbaz Sharif (then chief minister, Punjab) to move to Islamabad to be prime minister. Punjab would be entrusted to a loyal vassal.

Their canny father Mian Muhammad Sharif disagreed. What use is Islamabad if you lose Punjab? He told his sons to stay put, and bundled the late unlamented Rafiq Tarar into the presidency.

For Nawaz Sharif, the pomp and ceremony attached to the presidency would be one glittering incentive. The greater would be exemption from any prosecution while in office.

For Shehbaz Sharif, the prime ministership is the reward for years of laborious apprenticeship. His first task will be to repair the fences Imran Khan had created between Islamabad and the provinces. His second will be to restart the rusted machinery of governance. He enjoys the confidence of the business community, foreign lenders and development agencies, and especially the Chinese whose CPEC lugged under Imran Khan. His third will be to distribute vacuous titles to his coalition partners. They will soon learn that, like Imran Khan, Shehbaz Sharif hunts best alone.

And what of the others? At 33, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has a lifetime ahead of him. His callow years are behind him. He demonstrated his newly honed political skills in his final speech in the National Assembly, where he responded to Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s jibe about the amounts PTI MNAs had been offered to become turncoats. His rapier retort asked SMQ how much he had received for joining the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) in 1986, the Pakistan People’s Party in 1993, and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf in 2011.

In the new government, Bilawal will definitely be offered foreign affairs. It is an area in which his mother and grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made their reputations. Ironically, Imran Khan borrowed Z.A. Bhutto’s ‘independent’ foreign policy as a crutch to support his own recent and fatal anti-US diatribes.

Of the other portfolios, the most significant will be finance and commerce. The treasury is bankrupt and the trade deficit is, like the Titanic, tilting dangerously. No one on the new filled treasury benches seems equipped to resuscitate our gasping economy. Foreseeably, the economy will continue to stumble from one crisis into a deeper one.

The dramatic exit of the PTI from the National Assembly and the resignations of its MNAs (some noisily, others reluctantly) has serious constitutional ramifications. A simple majority of 174 out of 372 members may be enough to vote Imran Khan out and Shehbaz Sharif in. It is not sufficient for day-to-day unchallengeable legislative governance.

With PTI’s exodus, 16.9 million Pakistanis who voted for it in the 2018 general election have no voice left within parliament. Their leader exhorts them to vent their anger instead in the streets.

Pakistan is in a state of shock: its parliament has been lobotomised. That is a dangerous situation. No nation with a nuclear arsenal can be trusted to function with only half a brain.



14 April 2022

14 April 2022
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