System vs Sharif: Temporary Relief?

Nawaz Sharif will not engage in any major political activity. He wants to stay indoors and focus on his health, writes Murtaza Solangi

System vs Sharif: Temporary Relief?
Nawaz Sharif is out of prison till the beginning of Ramazan. Everyone is discussing the temporary relief he has secured. There are also those who are arguing that it is the system that has secured more relief than the Sharifs.

Consider this: Since the controversial July 2018 elections, the ruling coalition has faced one crisis after another. As if poor governance, lack of policy direction, an economic meltdown, foreign policy isolation and media gags were not enough, a political witch-hunt under a selective accountability process led by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) raised serious doubts about the longevity of this government. This was worrying for the miltablishment as well.

The hearing of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s bail application was postponed by the Supreme Court and heard 10 days after the death of Brigadier (r) Asad Munir, who was also mentioned on the day bail was finally granted. One is reminded of the time permission was granted to former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf to record his statement via video in a sedition trial from Dubai, where he is absconding these days.

It is not clear yet how Sharif’s short reprieve will impact unity of the opposition, especially PML-N’s relations with the Pakistan People’s Party.

“Granting conditional bail and restricting Sharif only reinforces the narrative of the invincibility of the deep state. Even within his party, it strengthens the pro-establishment narrative,” said a veteran analyst in the Margalla valley.

Sources in the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) leadership told this scribe that the former premier will not engage in any major political activity, would like to stay indoors and focus on his health. So will his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

“They may try to create conditions where this bail is extended and terms of the bail are relaxed further. They will use other legal instruments to get the sentence suspended, just like the Avenfield case. Till that happens, they will lie low,” said the same source.
It is not clear yet how Sharif’s short reprieve will impact unity of the opposition, especially PML-N’s relations with the Pakistan People’s Party

The PML-N has been torn on how to deal with the powerful miltablishment since the days of the Dawn Leaks, with a powerful lobby demanding an end to defiance against the miltablishment. This advice Nawaz Sharif and his heir apparent Maryam Nawaz Sharif did not heed.

Shehbaz Sharif has been quietly working on repairing ruptured relations, much to the ire of Prime Minister Imran Khan who considers the younger Sharif a great threat. Shehbaz Sharif’s name being struck from the Lahore High Court on the same day his brother was granted bail did not amuse Imran Khan. His information minister was quick to announce that his government will contest the court verdict in the Supreme Court, even though its position has been that all cases were initiated before the PTI government took office. They had argued that NAB had initiated the cases and the outfit was independent and autonomous.

It is not clear yet how Sharif’s short reprieve will impact unity of the opposition, especially PML-N’s relations with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Many in the PML-N still look at the PPP with suspicion.

The suspicion is so deep seated that during the in-camera briefing on the eve of the military escalation with India, Shehbaz Sharif offered many suggestions to the top brass without looking or acknowledging Asif Zardari, said a participant of the meeting.

“As much as both the PPP and PML-N agree on broad parameters of democracy, given the situation both are in, they are still willing and trying to seek relief from the establishment at the cost of each other,” said a veteran analyst in Lahore.

Where does the current situation leave the PPP, which has around two dozen of Sindh’s top guns under NAB investigation - including the current chief minister, the former chief minister, Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and even Bilawal Bhutto Zardari?

The day both Sharifs got reprieve from the courts, Bilawal launched his train march from Karachi to Larkana, threatening to extend it to Rawalpindi where most of their cases have been transferred. There is still talk that Zardari and his sister will be behind bars in the next few weeks but if that happens, it opens the door for the PPP under Bilawal to take more radical positions. Is this what the miltablishment wants to see? There are rumours that even Bilawal might be behind bars. “That would most definitely help the politics of resistance against the miltablishment and will weaken Imran Khan and deprive him of legitimacy,” said one commentator.

One thing is certain: the economic situation continues to deteriorate as the State Bank has reduced the GDP outlook to half, power rates and gas prices have been jacked up, unemployment is rising and the FATF threat hangs over the country like a sword of Damocles. In these circumstances, it is not about what the PPP, the PML-N and other opposition parties can do. It is about the capability of Imran Khan’s administration. Can our current ruling coterie stop the deterioration of living conditions of over 200 million people?

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad