Calculations and Miscalculations

Calculations and Miscalculations
Every political player in the country has made some smart moves but also come a cropper on occasion.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resisted the temptation to combat Imran Khan’s dharna with the might of the state, thereby precluding the third umpire from raising his finger. Instead, he accepted the demand to set up a Judicial Commission and agreed to quit government if electoral rigging were proved. In the event, when the JC flatly rejected Imran Khan’s allegations, Mr Sharif was able to thwart a conspiracy to get rid of him. The same Nawaz Sharif, however, miscalculated in dealing with the Pakistani Taliban when he opted for yet another round of talks with them when they were breathing down our necks, thereby handing over the initiative to the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, who unilaterally ordered the army to strike against them, thereby winning hearts and minds across the country. Then Mr Sharif rushed to embrace Narendra Modi and offered him an olive branch at his inauguration. But he was let down badly when Modi subsequently turned his back on him. Later, at Ufa, Mr Sharif hurriedly accepted an Indian proposal of talks between the two National Security Advisors focused on terrorism. But before the door for dialogue could be opened in Delhi, he succumbed to media pressure at home and reneged on the Ufa agreement by insisting on including Kashmir in the agenda, thereby putting paid to the gains made at Ufa.

Then there’s Imran Khan. He miscalculated the potential gains from the dharna and ended up with egg on his face when the third umpire didn’t give Mr Sharif out. Then he launched the Judicial Commission as a powerful bail out package but had to retreat when it refused to deliver. Now he is focusing on the four constituencies that have formed the backdrop of his every utterance on electoral rigging, thereby managing to whip up interest in the subject all over again. Indeed, this is a good strategy in the run up to local elections in the Punjab scheduled next month. By all accounts the contest in NA-122 is already being billed as make or break for both parties. If the PMLN wins, the PTI will claim rigging because it has already rejected the creditworthiness of the Election Commission. If the PTI wins, Khan will claim it proves his point that the 2013 elections were rigged in general and NA-122 was rigged in particular.

Asif Zardari is in a class of his own. He successfully cobbled a non-antagonistic relationship with Nawaz Sharif that shielded both of them from the ravages of Imran Khan. But he miscalculated on the MQM, until the situation in Karachi took such a bad turn that General Raheel Sharif was compelled to lean on the federal government to set up military courts. When the bill was floated, Mr Zardari was inclined to oppose it. But he wilted under popular pressure and signed on the dotted line. Now he is ruing the day he took that decision. Both the PPP and MQM are at the receiving end of the new anti-terrorist laws they helped promulgate.

Altaf Hussain has also miscalculated time and again. When the wind was blowing against Nawaz Sharif, he was inclined to curry favour with the military. Then, when the military decided not to give him any quarter, he began to lambast the generals. Both moves were hasty and misdirected. Now he is facing military action in Karachi, his live utterances have been banned and the chances of the military handing over one of the alleged murderers of Dr Imran Farooq to the British authorities are bright. If that comes to pass, Altaf Hussain’s problems will mount and the MQM could splinter and lose its monopolistic hold over the urban areas of Sindh. All private New Zealand escorts in one place - isn't it convenient?

General Raheel Sharif, notwithstanding a string of policy successes, is also not immune to miscalculation. He rightly took the decision to go after the Taliban and was lauded for it. He rightly started a clean-up of Karachi that made him hugely popular. But his decision to target corruption by linking it to terrorism in Sindh has come a cropper. People are rightly asking when the military will target the PMLN government in Punjab. And that is something he cannot easily conjure up. But even if the general is able to huff and puff and shake up the Kingdom of Punjab, he will have to contend with the probability of all the politicians standing together and demanding accountability of generals past and present. And that is something he cannot institutionally deliver, regardless of his personal feelings on the subject. At that stage the general’s popularity, which has already peaked much before his time to retire, would be severely dented.

To conclude: politicians and generals are both fallible. They should learn to calculate for the good of the country and not miscalculate for the good of their party, person or institution.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.