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Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif has attained nirvana. Within the same fortnight, he has met President Vladimir Putin at the SCO summit at Samarkand, attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, been received by International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank’s President David Malpass, and photographed sandwiched between U.S. President Joe Biden and Mrs Jill Biden. Fate could not have beamed more broadly on him.

For the past twenty-five years and more, Shehbaz Sharif has been lurking and working under the shadow of his elder brother Nawaz Sharif. Now at last, since April 2022, he is his own man – ostensibly.

From the frequent stop-overs he makes in London, though, it appears he is still required to consult the ‘king across the waters’. In Pakistan, he may be prime minister ruling over 225 million but at Stanhope Place, London W.2, he is very much the obedient younger brother.

Shehbaz Sharif has returned to Pakistan with the excess baggage of Ishaq Dar, foisted on him by Nawaz Sharif. For those who suffer from political amnesia, Ishaq Dar was the Cessna chartered accountant who, after serving the Sharifs as their financial factotum, found himself retrofitted with Boeing ambitions. He served the Sharifs as Finance Minister four times (1998-99, 2008, 2013-17, and briefly again in late 2017).

In power, he was dubbed ‘the Deputy prime minister’, chairing at one time 45 parliamentary committees. Out of power, he ‘collaborated’ with the establishment while in its custody at Chamba House. Once released, he reneged, disowning his damaging revelations about the fluidity of the Sharifs’ financial machinations over the years.

Connected with Nawaz Sharif through marriage (his son is married to Asma Nawaz), Dar has benefited from their good fortune. From working in Libya’s government audit department in 1976, forty years later Dar’s last declared assets increased dramatically to ₨583 million plus ₨325 million in Pakistan Investment Bonds. This does not, says one report, include £5.5 million in the U.A.E., ‘undeclared property in Pakistan, the UAE and the United States.’

He applied for political asylum in the U.K. and managed to successfully evade an Interpol Red Alert demanding his repatriation to Pakistan, and was later given a clean chit by the organisation.

This week he returns to Pakistan as Nawaz Sharif’s mole in Shehbaz Sharif’s cabinet and as Finance minister for an unprecedented fifth time. He is expected to apply his unique brand of Darnomics and rescue Pakistan’s economy from its downward spiral.  PML-N loyalists are convinced he can and will.  Skeptics have a greater authority on their side – Albert Einstein. He once said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”?

Analysts must wonder at the recent inexplicable flip-flop in our international relations. The United States, after shunning Imran Khan’s overtures, has announced this month that it would provide $450 m. for ‘sustainment and support cases’ of F-16 aircraft that it denied delivery of to us in the 1980s even though we had paid for them.

Robin Raphel (the widow of Ambassador Raphel killed with President Ziaul Haq in 1988) pays a courtesy call on former PM Imran Khan at Banigala, without arousing accusations that the U.S. is conspiring to restore him.      

The COAS, after announcing that the Army had nothing to do with politics, has again begun receiving foreign delegations, including a high level delegation led by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressman Thomas Suozzi and Congressman Alexander N Green. He has made high profile visits to flood affected areas and most recently, even president Arif Alvi added his credence to Imran Khan’s suggestion ‘that the term of current COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa be extended until after fresh elections in the country.’

Inevitably such rumours will stoke the fires of speculation. Will COAS Qamar Bajwa accept the extension under the amended Army Act 1952? Or will he retire quietly, or occupy a lucrative post in the Gulf?  

And what of the six senior generals due to retire before then, on 30 September?   The ISPR is understandably reticent.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan is determined to agitate from dry land. He threatens to storm Islamabad and wrest power from Shehbaz Sharif’s government. Simultaneously, he holds out that he is prepared to return to the present assembly provided there is an independent enquiry into the moribund ‘cybergate’ incident.

In all this domestic maelstrom, neighbouring countries like Iran, Afghanistan and India watch us with silent condescension, bordering on contempt. They cannot understand why our leaders should bicker so publicly.

Over the past fortnight, the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II have caused many to marvel at the plans made for it years in advance. That is not unusual. Pakistani politicians have been planning each other’s funerals for years.  



[DAWN, 29 Sept. 2022]

29 September 2022
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