Towards elections via Saudi Arabia

Asha’ar Rehman

They say that the Sharifs’ visit to Saudi Arabia was in no way linked to the scheduled general election in Pakistan. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s news conference after his surprise return home had everything to do with the 2018 general election.
It was a surprise comeback since many amongst us had strived to import a permanent stamp on Mian Sahib’s flight from Pakistan. According to the script, the Sharif brothers were to eagerly put their thumbprints on a deal that was to free Nawaz from the burden of having to take on the establishment.
The deal was to release him of his democratic bondage and provide him refuge away from the tough schedule in Pakistan that, among other nuisances, required him to frequently appear in court. Younger brother Shahbaz Sharif was, in contrast, to emerge as the one leading the PML-N’s charge towards and beyond the 2018 general election.
Polls weighed heavily on Nawaz Sharif’s mind as he spoke to the press corps.
There was no word – neither was one sought with any urgency – about how Shahbaz Sahib himself was to escape the much feared legal juggernaut and stay relevant to Pakistani politics. It was a given that, if the Saudi monarchy so desired, he could still be the man to beat in the dash for power this year.
So sure were we that journalists and other interested citizens in Lahore started to prepare for the emotional shock of living without Shahbaz Sahib and his dynamic leadership. Few of them were ready to trade him for a Hamza Shahbaz. The sense of anticipation and loss hit hard as the two Sharif brothers went through the familiar screening process in Saudi Arabia.
Various explanations were offered about the visit by the two Sharifs – the former prime minister following the Punjab chief minister to the land from where we Pakistanis derive so much solace and spiritual and worldly strength..
One theory that was rather easy on the mind, perhaps purely because it was based on the chronological order of things, was a remark attributed to Nawaz Sharif which was neither denied nor confirmed. It was a remark in which Mian Sahib was said to have ‘approved of’ Shahbaz Sahib as his candidate for prime minister in the next election. The explanation said that it was this remark which had set Shahbaz Shaib off for Saudi Arabia. Mian Sahib followed him there to reconfirm with the Saudi royalty that Shahbaz Sahib did indeed enjoy his blessings.
There is as yet no word if this is the right explanation for the mysterious Sharif voyage to the land of bounty, or which ones of all these theories paraded in public for the last so many days have some truth to them. This may be an entirely wrong impression of the expedition, its purpose and outcome. But at the risk of sounding repetitive, let us remember that there are people here who believed from the outset that this is what Mian Sahib had been aiming for – forwarding Shahbaz Sahib’s credentials for the office of prime minister and at the same time maintaining a tough-talking second prong with the help of Maryam Nawaz.
Considering the odds, it would appear a good enough bargain for the PML-N to aim for. The most ardent of Mian Sahib’s fans were giving him few chances to turn the tables on what appeared to be his fate. He was most unlikely to redeem himself, and quickly, to be able to lay claim to the leadership mantle in the context of the 2018 general polls.
Even Shahbaz Sahib initially appeared to have little effect on the kingmakers, summoning his most innocent, most promising expressions on the occasion with the help of his portfolio of all the development work conducted with typical severity. The children of the Sharif family as the next leaders was a proposition fraught with danger. Shahbaz Sahib had to be the best bet for the 2018 election.
Election apparently weighed heavily on Nawaz Sharif’s mind as he spoke to the press corps upon his return from the soul-cleansing journey to Saudi Arabia – election and democracy which in a poll year has more to do with votes than at any other time. He did warn ‘them’ that he would come out with the whole truth about what has been happening in Islamabad in the last four odd years, since he was elected prime minister in 2013. On the day he did speak about a common problem: the difficulties faced by a man who has to frequently show up in court. But if one were to pinpoint one salient point on which he put utmost emphasis it had to be election 2018.
Take a look. A report in said Sharif “described how elections in Pakistan have historically not been taken seriously, preventing successive prime ministers from completing their term”.
“Because 2018 is a year for elections,” he said, “this worn-out rule of the past is being applied again today.”
“They are trying to shift the public’s views … Block the way for a certain political party, and pave the way for the[ir]) darling.”
He spoke about “the most recent assessment of the numbers” and claimed the PML-N was way ahead of others and its vote bank “still larger than the vote bank of all other political parties combined”. “The ones afraid of this truth are trying hard to change the reality and turn it into something else.”
“I want to say in crystal clear words today that this country’s fate is linked to free and fair elections. Every political party should have equal opportunity to take part in these elections.”
“Secret telephone calls and deals should not be used to tie our hands, and to give the darling a new deal and new dheel (freedom).”
The passionate, focused call for a level playing field for elections could well mean a concentration on polls. The stress would be misplaced unless the big brother has decided who is going to lead this thrust for power. -Courtesy: Dawn

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.