FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 20

Nawaz Sharif: Upping the ante

Ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif seems to be in no mood to back down. He is upping the ante on a daily basis, mounting venomous attacks on one state institution after another. Earlier, the judiciary was his favourite target. But now he has turned his guns on the security establishment for whom he uses the euphemism “khalai makhlooq”.

 His latest salvo on the issue of the 2008 Mumbai attacks has caused an uproar in Pakistan politics and media and earned him the sobriquet of ghaddar-e-watan. He has been denounced for speaking the language of India but he sticks to his guns, asking “What did I say in the interview that was wrong?” His remarks to the media a few days ago outside the Islamabad accountability court, where Mr. Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, are on trial, showed that he stands by what he said in his interview to Dawn newspaper. In the Buner rally later in the day, Nawaz Sharif consolidated his stance by demanding a national commission to establish who has committed treason in the country in light of his comments about militancy in general and the Mumbai attacks in particular.

As expected, Nawaz Sharif’s remarks drew a quick response from the National Security Committee, convened overnight at the request of the military leadership to discuss his allegations. The statement after the NSC meeting came as a severe indictment of the ex-PM’s Mumbai attack remarks, an indictment to which senior ministers of the PML-N government were also party.

The most interesting in this connection has been the endless contortions performed by Prime Minister Abbasi who has been bending over backwards to say, time and again, that the media had misquoted Nawaz Sharif’s statement. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and others in the PML-N have also attempted to provide clarifications in a bid to minimise damage to the PML-N’s position. But Nawaz Sharif has remained adamant.

Soon after the publication of Nawaz’s interview, the Indian media raised a storm, terming it an “admission” on part of the former prime minister about Pakistan’s complicity in the Mumbai attacks. In response to this, the PML-N issued a clarification, saying that the Indian media had “grossly misinterpreted” Nawaz’s remarks. But it was a weak defence, given Nawaz Sharif’s unbending attitude.

There are tell-tale evidences of differences within the ruling party as shown by the issuance of contradictory statements by the Sharif brothers on the issue. While Nawaz has strongly refused to withdraw his remarks, his younger brother and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, who is also the chief minister of Punjab, said a statement that the news report had “incorrectly attributed certain remarks to PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif, which do not represent PML-N’s party policy”. In the statement, which Shahbaz issued as the party president through the Punjab government’s Directorate General Public Relations, he said the PML-N “rejects all assertions, direct or implied, made in the news report of Dawn.” But the very next day, Nawaz Sharif dispelled the notion that the comments were falsely attributed to him, saying that he had spoken the truth.

Former Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan who is in the know of things has come out with his own version in response to Nawaz Sharif’s question as to why Mumbai attack trials were not completed in Pakistan. Nisar, under whose watch the Federal Investigation Agency was investigating the Mumbai attacks, has emphasised that the Indian government was to blame for the hold-up in the trial. According to him, since the assault took place in the Indian financial capital, it was the Indian government which possessed “90 per cent of the evidence and facts” of the incident which they never shared with Pakistan.

What Nawaz Sharif is playing for has by now become obvious. His speaking the so-called truth about the Mumbai attacks is basically an attempt to queer the pitch for democratic accountability that has brought about his downfall. Nawaz Sharif’s statement is also not about strengthening democracy, for the simple fact is that for the three times he has been in office as PM, he never spoke a word about the Mumbai trial.

It is more than obvious now that Nawaz Sharif’s statement was meant to malign the military whom he suspects to be behind the judicial verdict to disqualify him. Some analysts have also interpreted Nawaz Sharif’s Mumbai attack statement as a plea to the foreign powers to help him secure a deal. But those around Nawaz Sharif who arranged the interview failed to anticipate that that raising the Mumbai issue at this point in time would not cut any ice with foreign powers or help him in the Panama case verdict.

Needless to say, all of Nawaz Sharif’s political gyrations are aimed at self-preservation. But his every move has further distanced from his intended goal. His Mumbai attack statement has been the severest blunder of all which has caused countrywide outrage. Nawaz Sharif’s latest style of politicking has put the PML-N is in an unenviable situation. It is being pulled in different directions from within and facing enormous pressure from outside. Political pundits are of the opinion that in case Nawaz Sharif is convicted, the party will collapse under the pressure of weight pulling in opposite directions.