After his disqualification at the hands of Supreme Court former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has launched an impressive road show to salvage whatever is left of his political legacy and perhaps his reputation. Sharif has embarked on a journey from Islamabad to Lahore along the GT road – the core of his voter base in the country – asking and appealing to his voters to act against what he pleads as unfair and unjust disqualification at the hands of five Supreme Court judges.
After his disqualification on corruption charges arising out of Panama Papers leaks, Sharif is addressing rallies on his way to Lahore, pleading innocence from corruption and taking the stance that powerful army colluded with judges to depose him. “For how long they (army and judges) would keep desecrating the mandate given by people. You sent me to Islamabad, they are sending me home and this is what has been happening in the country for last 70 years. There have been 18 prime ministers all ousted from power prematurely,” Sharif keeps telling huge crowds that gather on roadside along the way.
Sharif is no rebel. Ever since he joined politics in 1983, he has been a beneficiary of generous political rewards by the powerful generals who brought him to power thrice. Even the 2013 elections that almost gave him a two-third majority are widely believed to have been rigged in his favour by the army. The same story was repeated in 1991 and 1997 when he was given power but soon he fell out with his mentors and was sent packing. However this sacking looks lost as the story has lost its charm.
Though he is popular in Punjab and especially upper Punjab along the GT road, he has been always allowed to punch above his weight and other provincial forces always cooperated with him so that he could govern the country.
The question is he is now trying to play anti-establishment, radical and revolutionary who is challenging the status quo by leading the people. This is a new script and new role that his entire political life has then not prepared him for. During the bid he is trying to not only touch base but inviting the political entities to foster alliance to break the shackles the army has thrown around the necks of the civilians. The problem is his rival Pakistan Peoples Party after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has donned the khaki colours and has become pro-army unit that exists only in rural parts of Sindh.
The other rival is Imran Khan who is contesting toe to toe with Sharif for the same vote-bank.
Though Sharif is rallying sizeable crowds, his calls for unified front against the army and the establishment is being lost in the political wilderness. Sharif wants to avoid the repeat of 2002, when after General Musharraf ousted him and sent to exile, his entire [party which was much bigger than today, just melted in thin air and formed a pro-army group in the parliament. His playing rebel though appeals to the base but it would upset the top where almost all his senior party colleagues have pro-establishment tilt.
And if his party leaders get the wind that the upcoming elections are actually going to be free and fair as the signs are, it will be a mass exodus of PML-N deputies whose political contract with Sharifs is confined to winning of elections with the help of army agencies. If Sharif fails to deliver on that there will be no party. Period.
Another important thing in upcoming elections is absence of Saudi factor. Saudis mentored Sharif for years and his detractors say they were the major force behind convincing former army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani to swing the elections for PML-N. The US too under Trump not seems interested in betting on Sharif and so is China, so where the vital nod for the army would come from? As has always been the case, the Trump administration too, understands that though army is a big menace and a potent hurdle to peace in Afghanistan, betting on civilians never delivered anything for Washington. So one-window operation through army on deliverables seems the only option the US would take. Backing civilian politicians in Pakistan has never served the purpose for the United States so it hardly is plausible that Sharif get the US support.
*Mohammed Rizwan is a professional journalist for the last 23 years 1990-2014 covering politics and terrorism from Pakistan and Dubai.