This is the third time that Mr Sharif has been ousted from elected office for refusing to take “dictation” from the Miltablishment. After the first sacking in 1993, he was able to contest the elections in 1997. After his second ouster in 1999, he was jailed and exiled to Saudi Arabia. But he returned to politics in 2008 and won the 2013 elections. Now he is a full-fledged convict banned from ever contesting elections
There are two curious facts in the developing situation. First, the more he has defied the Miltablishment, the more popular he has become. Second, the more he has defied the Miltablishment, the more acute his immediate personal and political predicament. This time, however, his ailing health has added to his troubles.
His options are clear. He can either admit to his political miscalculations and throw in the towel; or he can continue on the path of defiance and suffer imprisonment and stress. The first route would mean relinquishing control of the PMLN to Shahbaz Sharif and enabling him to serve the Miltablishment with due diligence. The second would imply sacrificing self so that his popular legacy can pass to his daughter Maryam in time to come. But it seems that Mr Sharif is considering a third path.
His experience tells him that nothing is permanent in the unstable world of Pakistani politics, that political crises can erupt at any time, that external factors can have a significant bearing on domestic affairs, that economic necessities can finesse political certainties. So long as he remains popular with the electorate, so long as his opponents are floundering, so long as the crises of political economy confronting Pakistan continue to expand or deepen, he always has a chance of staging a comeback. Why not zip up and hunker down and let Shahbaz steer the PMLN ship in these tumultuous times? In other words, why not live to fight another day?
But Mr Sharif isn’t the only one whose political miscalculations have landed him in the soup with the Miltablishment. Mr Asif Ali Zardari is also comprehending some hard truths about it. The Miltablishment has no permanent friends, only permanent interests. He thought he would help the Miltablishment nail Nawaz Sharif and elevate Imran Khan in exchange for being let off the hook. Now he finds himself at the receiving end from Imran Khan while the Miltablishment stands by and clucks in sympathy.
The fact is that Mr Zardari was played by the Miltablishment to get Mr Sharif. Now Nawaz has been stitched up and it is time to get Zardari. The likelihood is that he too will be hounded from one court and cell to another in exchange for abject cooperation from his son and Party Chairman Bilawal in core areas of concern.
Meanwhile, the Miltablishment will have increasing cause to reconsider its strategic policy of putting all its eggs in Imran Khan’s basket. If he has proved anything in his first eight months in office, it is this: his decisions are not always informed by rationality and common sense (Buzdar as CM Punjab); He is prone to rewarding cronies despite lack of merit (the list is too long); he is arrogant and stand-offish (contempt of Parliament); he disdains constitutional practices (refusal to accord due recognition and respect to the role of the Leader of the Opposition); his failure to learn the art of diplomacy in negotiations (a string of faux pas with the US, India, Afghanistan); worst of all, a stubborn refusal to learn the basics of economic management of the state, especially when its finances are in dire straits.
Imran Khan is lucky that the conflict with India didn’t escalate because the Miltablishment would have thrown him overboard if the outcome had been adverse. Now he must shoulder responsibility for getting Pakistan off the FATF hook, roping in the IMF and compelling Pakistanis to tighten belts all round for a few years more. The Miltablishment is anxious. Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are praying. Shahbaz Sharif is hoping. Pakistanis are stressed. Everyone is waiting for Godot!