Sharif leaves, Khan stays, but nothing changes for Pakistan

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Published 03.12.2019 00:32

Has Nawaz Sharif's departure closed the chapter of Imran Khan's 'politics of change' in Pakistan forever? It now depends on Khan's next strategies

An air ambulance takes off from Doha and lands at the airport in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore on the morning of Nov. 19. The ailing Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's former three-time prime minister gets on board along with his brother Shehbaz Sharif with the due protocol as the key leaders and workers of his party were at the airport to see him off. The air ambulance then takes off to land at London airport.

The other side of the picture is that it was the departure of high profile prisoner Nawaz Sharif, who had been disqualified from holding public office in 2017 by the country's top court, convicted in a corruption case last year and was on trial in several other graft cases. Thanks to a Pakistani court's verdict on humanitarian grounds that suspended his seven-year sentence, granted him extendable bail for four weeks and permitted him to leave the country for his medical treatment abroad. On the other hand, the present government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan remained a silent spectator of his high profile departure either for political reasons or humanitarian grounds.

Khan's remarks

Then came a cry of despair from Imran Khan, "I know how to win and how to face defeat. And I know how to stand back up after I have been defeated. It is my promise to God that I will not spare a single person who has plundered the nation's money," he said two days after the court's judgment allowing the ailing Sharif to travel abroad and removing the condition of indemnity bonds worth 7.5 billion rupees ($104,588,647) placed by his government for Sharif's exit. The court's verdict however deprived the government of the chance of political face-saving.

Khan expressed his desperation in a public gathering on Nov. 22 when he even doubted the illness of Sharif as he commented on his departure to London. Khan said after watching Nawaz board the air ambulance, he wondered if Sharif got healthy with the first glance of the London-bound air ambulance.

In fact, it was the government's decision to allow Sharif to travel abroad for his treatment of an immunity disorder apparently on humanitarian grounds. It was actually the pressure mounted on the government by opposition parties including Sharif's Pakistan Muslim league-N. The two-week sit-in staged in Islamabad from Oct. 31 by thousands of protesters led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI-F) and backed by opposition parties demanding Prime Minister Khan to step down ultimately forced the beleaguered government to allow the ailing Sharif to leave Pakistan.

Khan's cry of despair over Sharif's exit went unheard and unnoticed by his political allies, the judiciary and the military. Even an ordinary Pakistani citizen, who seems to be battling his financial problems under his government, has nothing to do with Sharif's departure.

Has Sharif's departure closed the chapter of Khan's "politics of change" in Pakistan forever? Imran Khan, the former international cricket star-turned-politician, entered politics in 1996 as the leader of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) or the "justice movement" raising the slogan of "change" in the status quo. He vowed to put all the corrupt and plunderers of public money behind the bars.

No change ahead?

Now with the unconditional exit of the convicted Sharif, Khan's slogan of change merely remained a slogan and practically the status quo prevails and leaves no room for change in Pakistan. Khan has shown somewhat rigidity in dealing with his political opponents. He openly called Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari corrupt, dishonest and plunderers of public money and pledged to put them in jail and recover the looted money. Now Sharif has left under his government and the ailing Zardari is the next candidate to benefit from humanitarian grounds. Old is still gold in the Khan's new Pakistan, a vision of a corruption-free state with rule of law. All the old practices - covert deals, machinations, manipulations and compromises, of dirty politics are still staring in the face of the so-called new Pakistan.

What lesson needs to be learned by Khan is that honesty is not always the best policy to clean the Augean stable of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in a developing country. Statesmanship demands to move things keeping an eye on political realities and take decisions without ignoring the "timing" which is very important in politics.

First of all, Khan needs to differentiate between cricket and politics. Though the dynamics of both cricket and politics depend on the pitch, yet very much depends on the team performance in both. As every ball is not to be played or spared in cricket, similarly, the timing always remains crucial for making statements and taking actions in politics. Team Khan largely comprises of tried and tested players, who have so far been incompetent to address and redress the grievances of the masses. The team selected by Khan to run his party's agenda for changing the status quo lacks the capacity to deliver.

Whereas Sharif's exit would immensely damage the anti-corruption narrative of Imran Khan, it also puts a question mark on a legal system that protects only high profile prisoners, while thousands of ailing prisoners are languishing in the country's different jails.

The exit of convicted Sharif opens Pandora's Box of Pakistan's existing legal system with separate laws to deal with the high profile and ordinary prisoners. An ordinary Pakistani convicted and imprisoned in a case, cannot even think of going abroad for medical treatment, as there is no precedent of unprecedented health care and treatment provided to Sharif who was convicted and punished in a corruption case and sentenced to seven years in jail.

There could be several precedents of ordinary prisoners dying of diseases in jail, but no precedent of special care of a prisoner, who had been provided VIP treatment, calling the best specialist doctors from across the country to save his life.

And now a new precedent has been set allowing a high profile ailing prisoner to travel abroad to get treatment in the world's best medical facilities on humanitarian grounds. These humanitarian grounds remain missing when it comes to providing relief to an ordinary Pakistani.

The problems and causes

Sharif's departure is absolutely not the issue of an ordinary Pakistani, who burns the midnight oil to feed, clothe and support his family. The 15-month old Khan government has nothing to show its voters as its performance, which has been poorer than his predecessors. The people are reeling under soaring commodity prices amid rising levels of unemployment. Today, surging inflation and poverty levels are fueling unrest in Pakistan. The government's incompetence on the economic front has disappointed the people.

The only way forward for Imran Khan is to address the economic issues hitting Pakistanis hardest. But for that, he direly needs to replace his incumbent team of hawks and opportunists.

* Freelance op-ed contributor based in Karachi, Pakistan, contributing analyst at the South Asia desk of Wikistrat

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