Heave-Ho Moment

Heave-Ho Moment
SOMEONE recently had a chat with a bevy of television anchors and columnists. He was upfront. He told them what’s what, just in case there was any lingering doubt in anyone’s mind: power flows from the barrel of his gun; if he hasn’t pulled the trigger, it’s not for any want of instigation by “democrats” but only because he’s the biggest democrat of them all. He is backing the Supreme Court all the way and he has assured us that the general elections will be held in a free and fair manner.

That’s good to know. The Election Commission of Pakistan is inquiring into a small matter of horse-trading that enabled Dr Asif Ali Zardari to romp across the finishing line with hoofs to spare. The mystery of how a clutch of senators bolted across party lines or sold their vote to the highest bidder follows on the heels of another mystery that surrounds the sudden dismantling of the PMLN government in Balochistan that in turn paved the way for the PMLN’s debacle in the Senate. Meanwhile, PTI watchers would do better than attribute Imran Khan’s unholy alliance with Dr Zardari to the addition of a veritable Pirni to his household. All said and done, a neat exchange with the Miltablishment for throwing pet peeves Raza Rabbani and Farhatullah Babar under the bus. There’s more to come.

We have been assured that the heavens will not fall if Nawaz Sharif is convicted and imprisoned for money laundering and corruption. That’s why, since hard evidence is hard to come by (even though everyone and his aunt knows without a shred of doubt that Nawaz is guilty as hell), some more time has been given to the NAB judge to accomplish his mission. The idea is to knock out Nawaz before the elections so that these can be held freely and fairly to produce good results in the national interest. After all, Nawaz’s management of the economy was worse than Dr Zardari’s and his finance minister, Ishaq Dar, fudged the figures till kingdom come, didn’t he?

Now Nawaz has gone and nominated the son of a business partner as Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington. The Miltablishment wasn’t consulted. How insensitive or arrogant can you get? Has Nawaz forgotten the fate of Hussain Haqqani who pledged loyalty to Mr Zardari (he hadn’t acquired his PhD at the time) instead of the Miltablishment? A reminder has now been posted: the Supreme Court has reactivated the treason case against Mr Haqqani. So it’s only a matter of time before the new nominee is rendered impotent and knocked out like several other Nawaz loyalists before him. Washington and India are too important to be left to the political whims of elected prime ministers, especially those who are delusional enough to confuse being in office with being in power.

The next hurdle is already upon Nawaz. He is obliged to nominate the caretaker prime minister and four chief ministers with the approval of Dr Zardari and Imran Khan. If he is unable to nominate the men/women of their choice, the matter will be referred to the Election Commissioner and, in the ultimate analysis, to the Supreme Court. Now let’s not go there, please. The august courts are part and parcel of the Miltablishment. Nawaz should know he cannot expect any favours there. So like his appointment of the NAB chief and his Chief Public Prosecutor – who are being nudged to turn the screws on him – Nawaz should realise that the likes of Ishaq Dar are not around to fudge the figures.

Is it, then, game, set and match already?

Nawaz Sharif has just confirmed Shahbaz Sharif as President of the PMLN. Is this a case of better late than never? No, it isn’t. In politics, as in war, certain manoeuvres must be made at certain times or never at all if they are to yield “positive” results. If Nawaz had not voluntarily prostrated himself at the feet of the Supreme Court for justice, he might never have had to challenge its judgment later. Indeed, if he had resigned as PM before the inquiries had been initiated against him, he might never have been disqualified from holding office as PM. In fact, if he had made Shahbaz Sharif President of the PMLN six months ago, he might never have been disqualified to head the PMLN himself. Now, if Shahbaz Sharif is eerily quiet and sullen, it is only because he thinks he has been rendered weak and isolated. Time was when he might have been able to negotiate and salvage a working compromise with the Miltablishment. Now the chasm of mutual distrust and hostility has overwhelmed all stakeholders.

A last decision cries out to be taken. Going by past developments, the longer Nawaz Sharif takes in calling the general elections, the greater the time and space for the Miltablishment to take him down. The crowds who are pouring out for him right now, and the MNAs who are still standing by him, may not survive the Heave-Ho moment.

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.