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The Last Temptation of Nawaz Sharif


As Benazir performs her dance of seven veils, Nawaz Sharif is under tremendous pressure to go in for the elections.

Our advice is: Don’t.

Here is the main basis of our argument: This is not 1985.  

The Gnawing Fear:

The gnawing fear that eats at the vitals of our politicians is that if they are left out in the cold, while all others go in, they will lose big time on the politics of patronage and distribution of favours that is the hallmark of our democracy. They won’t have the power to bestow privileges, such as job appointments, trade permits, route permits, dealing with courts, police, revenue departments; supporting your voters in disputes, feuds, vendettas; providing civic amenities. As a result, the voters will desert them in droves and the party will become an empty shell of itself.  We think it is unlikely to happen, for these reasons:

1) Lawyers

2) Media

3) Globalisation 


 The lawyers won a historic victory on 20th of July. This was unique in the history of Pakistan, as never before has the judiciary been able to stand up to the establishment (army, bureaucracy and politicians) and succeed. Whereas they have been repeatedly kicked in the teeth, and cowered in fear, this time their show of spine won them their lost prestige. This was mainly because of the uprising of the common people who stood up for the CJ, and the admirable leadership of his lawyers. We think this transformation is irreversible. There is no way that the lawyers will take the current pogrom lying down. The battle is about to be joined again. 

 The Media:

The TV channels are seriously hurting. It is one thing to be campaigning for democracy, but quite another to be fighting for one’s personal survival. If, as has been quoted, Geo are losing half to one million dollars a day, very soon they will set up their facilities outside Pakistan and Dubai, and their presenters will pop up in London, Singapore, Doha and New York. The tremendous power of the media should not be underestimated. The most influential people in Pakistan are not Benazir and Nawaz Sharif. They are Dr Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir, Talat Hussein, Kashif Abbasi Kamran Khan and Iftikhar Ahmed. Similarly the most powerful man in Pakistan is not Pervez Musharraf. He is probably the third most powerful after General Kiyani and Mir Shakeel ur Rehman. Musharraf will be powerless to take on the media onslaught in near future. 


You could also say empowerment of common man due to new technology and social change. For its level of income and human development, Pakistan is relatively better off in having all the infrastructure required for democracy. (legal and parliamentary tradition, political parties, press, electronic media and an astute electorate)What has changed since 1985 is the development of communication technology and contact among Pakistanis at home and in diaspora. There are 60 million mobile phones in Pakistan. 12 million people on the internet. There are 7 million expats. These people have seen the diversity of the world and experienced first hand the rule of law and civil rights,. Often fought for their rights in their host countries, and brought this experience back to Pakistan. (or transmitted the knowledge through the internet). We know that within one hour of this post being published, it will be viewed in Canberra, Mardan, San Francisco and Kuwait City.It interesting to see a placard with a catchy slogan in LUMS, being reproduced in London the next day. or a parody of a Noor Jehan song, first published Friday Times, being converted into a banner in Chakwal the following week. (See photo below) The people who are informed, are powerful. The military boot or the feudal whip does not deter them.

Possible Outcomes:

If Nawaz Sharif goes for the election, as seems increasingly likely, he will lose the moral  high ground that he holds by having spent 8 years in wilderness, and by taking an honourable stand against tyranny. The stature and his appeal have only increased due to this stand, in spite of his exile. If he goes in for the election what can be the best outcome? His party wins majority. He forms a Government, with Musharraf in control, with 17th amendment and 58 2-b intact. What will he be except Musharraf’s lowly minion? another Jamali. Meanwhile the lawyers’ movement will have heated up, there will hundreds of thousands of people on the roads, the media will have Musharraf by the throat, and nothing will stand in their way. But this is not the likely outcome. The likely outcome is that Musharraf will fix the elections, try to get a divided parliament, so that he can play off one party against the other. If the PMLN is not happy with the outcome where will they go? To the Musharraf stooges in kangaroo courts? Or take to streets? If so, why not now? The idea that the Musharraf  will still be in charge in five years, and will allow a ‘smooth’ transition to power is ludicrous. He was fatally weakened, on 20th of July, when he still commanded the army, now that he does not hold the gun, his days are numbered.  

But what about Benazir?

It has not turned out to be a shoo-in for Benazir, as she may have hoped for. Her problem is her cases, which limit her freedom of action. This is not  a problem for Nawaz Sharif, his cost and benefit calculus should be different. Though we also think that joining Musharraf is a far from optimal strategy for Benazir. If she had stood with Nawaz Sharif, the political scene would have been transformed by now. Musharraf, would not have been elected by that charade of an election, she would probably have won the parliamentary elections, but most importantly would have real power, which she is never going to have under Musharraf. As regards, her cases, she would probably still have a better chance without Musharraf 

But the Americans?

They have got it wrong. Musharraf is not necessary, let alone essential to their interests. There is a consensus in Pakistan, against extremism. Any free and fair election will return either Benazir or Nawaz Sharif to power. Both are happy to work with America. Pakistan army’s institutional interests are tied up with America, it is unlikely that they will rock the boat. It is unlikely that the civilian prime minister will have any authority over the nuclear weapons, any time soon, this will remain the army’s preserve. Anyway it is likely that by this time next year Hillary Clinton will be calling the shots, and she is unlikely to call Musharraf a democrat.  

We would say to Nawaz allies, to all the Rajas, the  Khawajas, the Hashmis, and Daultanas, to take heart. Take the high road to democracy. You will get there in good time. Don’t squander people’s goodwill by taking the low road, as democracy is unstoppable.

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Elections | Nawaz Sharif | Politics

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