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Nawaz Sharif’s dilemma: to lie low or fight it out?

Nawaz Sharif’s dilemma: to lie low or fight it out?
Amir Mateen Friday, September 19, 2014 ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan can take credit for creating history by necessitating the longest joint session of Parliament’s history. While the Presidential addresses to joint houses are usually over in hours, the important Constitutional amendments also did not take more than a few days in the past. Those who stormed Parliament to undermine it may not have realised that, by default, they actually gave it a new lease of life. It is the first time that Parliament has come to the aid of a civilian government for many weeks now. Pashtunkhwa Party’s Abdul Rahim Mandokhel was spot on when he argued that Parliament might have emerged stronger from this crisis as politicians remained united against outside intrusion. It hass been a unique experience for old-timers. The inclusion of the much ignored Senate led to an ample introspection into parliamentary lapses and contemplated as to why politicians as a class failed to address some fundamental public issues. We also got to hear the key issues that were generally evaded. The initiation of the much needed civil-military debate was one such topic. As Senators Raza Rabbani and Farhatulah Babar pointed out that the realignment of civil-military equation was the larger malaise that is raising its ugly head - manifested in the shape of memo-gate, opposition to Kerry-Lugar bill, the release of Pervaiz Musharraf and, more recently, in the form of Dharnas. At times the debate turned Marxist when the more articulate Senators mentioned the ever-growing economic disparity and the monopoly of the ruling class over power centres. Most members, who actually bought their way into Parliament, squirming on their seats, somehow looked uncomfortable at this mode of discourse. Thursday saw the demon of new provinces, with all its contradictions, rising from the ashes. Remember how every political party pandered for a Saraiki province before the elections. The issue is almost dead since then, although the division of Punjab might be the least controversial. It is only the sitting Punjab CM - be it Pervaiz Elahi or Shahbaz Sharif - who avoids sharing power while he sits atop Takht Lahore. The Punjabis might actually welcome its division into two or three provinces. But this can’t be said about the division of other provinces. This became clearer when the PPP and the MQM locked horns on the division of Sindh after the spat between “Beta Bilawal” and Uncle Altaf over “Marr su, Marr su, Sindh na dainsu.” While MQM’s Rasheed Godel suggested 20 provinces on the lines of India and Afghanistan, PPP’s Ayaz Soomro was found, sickeningly, sucking up to Bilawal in opposing it. Interestingly, Rahim Mandokhel was found opposing the KP division and declared Hazara as the integral part of the KP. That his party advocates the division of Balochistan on the basis of same principle did not matter to him. While Parliament continued with its debate on these concrete issues, the reality of Dharnas staged outside remained at the back of everybody’s mind. No matter how the PML (N) plays it down, the stalemate exists. It continues to take its toll on the economy and the public nerves. Nawaz Sharif seems stuck between the PTI/PAT containers and his contained emotions. It is a big gamble if he orders a crackdown. Chances are that he would be dubbed tyrant by none other than his new-found ally in PPP. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t! Everybody is beginning to call him a weakling who can’t restore the government’s writ on the Constitution Avenue. Many in the government think that the crisis is over. So far, that is. Come October, the conspiratorial brigade will leave office and the crisis will subside further. In the ideal PML (N) world, the Chinese would return to invest in Pakistan; the menace of terrorism is curtailed; there is enough water in the dams to lessen load-shedding. And Nawaz Sharif is all set to put the icing on the cake by his ultra successful visit to the UN where he is likely to get the US support and a possible détente with the Indians. Rosy, isn’t it? In the real world, however, it may not be as simple as that. The demons of instability, once invoked, do not go away easily in the land of ever-hungry power lobbies that feed on weak governments. In the backdrop of large-scale floods, the economy will take a hit because of growing instability. It will be a big challenge for Nawaz Sharif. It depends entirely on what lessons Nawaz Sharif may have learnt from the crisis. We shall soon know how he will charter his course from here onwards. As we see it he has a choice to make. Either he can become more cautious by not meddling with power lobbies, particularly the khakis. He keeps power more centralised as earlier and avoids taking big steps that need to be taken to vitalise the economy, diplomacy and governance. Jamali, Yousaf Raza and Pervaiz Ashraf tried that model and got written off as quietly as they came. Or he can try radical reforms in administration and economy. This might be the only way to appease the masses who, like it or not, have heard the PTI/PAT message carefully. The PML (N) needs more thinkers than accountants who could suggest ways to give the public a sense of participation. Nawaz Sharif can either become an accomplice to his class of monopolies or dilute their power. For a start, who stops him from having strong regulators in Competition Commission of Pakistan and Security and Exchange Commission? He can check out that its last chairperson, Rahat Kunain, had Pakistan’s biggest monopolies upside down. They made sure to get rid of her. And who stops Nawaz from asking kid brother Shahbaz Sharif to hold local bodies elections to expand the stakeholders. This is the only way that he could have a fresh breather of local politicians and devolve power to handle issues like floods. Heads need to be rolled for ignoring the floods warnings of Met office as early as 14 August. If only water manager had released water from Mangla Dam and Chenab headworks before September 5 the flood devastation could have been avoided. Let’s face it: it was a man-made flood disaster. Finally, the biggest test of Nawaz Sharif will be the Cabinet reshuffle. The same old team that caused his two earlier governments to fall simply can’t deliver. Either he should induct new blood from the backbenches or get able Senators in March, instead of good-for-nothing aunts and bajis hired on women MNA/MPA quotas. For all we know the battle is over but the war is on. A certain turncoat member from Mandi Bahauddin, who shares something with Chaudhary Nisar and Hussain Haqqani, is believed to be working on the formation of a PML (N) forward bloc. Guess who?

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