Wednesday, December 13, 2000,
Chandigarh, India






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A Tribune special
Sharif's exit: dangers ahead
From I.A. Rehman

LAHORE, Dec 12 In the early hours of December 10, the day reserved for celebrating the human rights of all peoples, Mr Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, succeeded in buying freedom for himself and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the man often projected as a successor acceptable even to his rivals not as a right but in a bargain. The event has plunged the entire population in a limitless frenzy of speculation, the least articulate of all being the authors of the 'deal'.

Not much speculation is needed on the logic underlying Mr Sharif's decision. Despite his heroics over the past 12 months, resistance to military rule was as alien to his nature as the pain of baptism in politics through the normal channel. He could not see anything wrong in being felled by the hand that had raised him to power, glory and wealth. The deal will not cripple him financially.

Further, the length of the period of his silence and exile is anybody's guess. He will not be wrong in presuming that just as he had bought every position in public life he could again at some stage buy an end to a most bizarre story of exile. The real irony in this tale is that like several of his predecessors Mr Nawaz Sharif learnt too late the futility of treating a pack of nodders as a political outfit.

However, in spite of betrayal of all the faithfuls who suffered for standing by him, history will not fail to record Mr Sharif's service to the cause of Pakistan's underdeveloped democracy. By declining to accept for a year the offer of retirement reportedly made soon after his dethronement he tied the hands of the military government, at least denied it the freedom of action to reshape Pakistan even further to its liking. His wife, a mere novice in politics, played a most creditable part in keeping the flock together as best as it was possible. And his decision to join a democratic alliance, forgetting that the like of it he had earlier wrecked, was a stroke of real politics.

Whatever other gains the regime might have considered while releasing him the possibility of undermining the newly formed Alliance for Restoration of Democracy apparently figured prominently in its calculations.

But Mr Nawaz Sharif is not the sole loser in the deal. The regime, too, has lost a great deal. It has invited bitter criticism of its disregard for courts by which it swore even though many were not satisfied with proceedings under arbitrarily-made laws and procedures.

By proclaiming that removal of a political rival corresponds to funda mental national interest while all other political imperatives can be ignored, the military regime has shown itself as no better than the government it had overthrown or the politicians it never stops denouncing.

The whole edifice of accountability which was used to win popularity with a non-discriminating public is now a shambles. The regime is now peevishly declaring that Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Zardari too can purchase reprieve. The official pronouncement was unnecessary as the public had discovered the truth by themselves that members of the ruling elite can always buy escape from law and that the facility is not available to those caught in minor misdemeanors.

The loss of credibility suffered by the regime is unlikely to be made up by whatever may now be available out of the chests of the oil rich friends or their patrons of long standing.

The immediate impact of the development on the domestic political situation will be immense. Mr Nawaz Sharif's PML, will suffer greater fragmentation. The Nawaz faithfuls will come under greater pressure from those seeking a compromise with the regime and whose hands the latter has strengthened by yesterday's disclosure that it does not indeed rule out the possibility of reviving the suspended parliament.

A weaker PML will mean a weaker alliance of the opposition parties, even when one makes due allowance for the electoral strength of the PML rump, especially in Punjab, Ms Benazir Bhutto stands to gain if she plays her cards a little prudently and courageously but even then the united front will take time to recoup.

Naturally, the military regime will now feel freer to carry out its agenda, though its lack of expertise in political engineering has been exposed by the hash it has made of the local bodies plan. The dangers in this course are obvious. The option least harmful to the country could be a plan for the military's earliest exit from power but the fear of an uncertain future makes people perform many odd exercises and Pakistan may well be in for one of those.

At the same time, the relief the regime receives from political foes may be more than offset by its continued blinking at the quasi-religious militants who are posing the most serious threat to the state. There is no sign that the need for making up with the democratic political opinion for overcoming this threat has been realised. Indications are that the regime will soon face a formidable alliance of religious militants behind a political facade of anti-democratic forces.

On the external front, the regime may get a little more space for dealing with the western world but its problems in Afghanistan are unlikely to end soon. As regards Kashmir and relations with India are other factors that Islamabad has to contend with and domestic politics will not materially affect its policies.
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