New lessons for Nawaz Sharif

Aug 7, 2017
The judicial ouster of an elected prime minister in controversial circumstances was always likely to generate political uncertainty. But as Nawaz Sharif prepares to return to Lahore via the GT Road and an unseemly war of words continues between the PTI and PML-N, the political landscape is beginning to appear dangerously unsettled. Much may depend on the course that Mr Sharif decides to take in the days and weeks ahead. At least in words, the ousted prime minister has been circumspect and seemingly focused on democratic continuity and stability. Speaking to media representatives on Saturday, Mr Sharif did not lash out at the verdict against him and expressed a willingness to engage in dialogue with all political parties, including the PML-N’s opponents. The Charter of Democracy signed by Mr Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in 2006 was also referenced.
Yet, Mr Sharif’s imminent return to Lahore is shaping up to be an intensely political episode in which the PML-N may try and flaunt its street power. Given that the PML-N is in power in Punjab, there is unlikely to be serious violence, but clashes with PTI supporters cannot be ruled out. The PML-N leadership should send a firm and unambiguous message to its supporters to avoid any incendiary words or actions, and the Punjab government ought to give assurances to opposition parties that peaceful rival protests or gatherings will be allowed. Just as Imran Khan’s historic October 2011 rally in Lahore was the start of an extended election campaign, Nawaz Sharif’s GT Road journey to the city may mark the beginning of the PML-N’s next campaign. With all parties emphasising that democracy must stay on track and elections must be held, common sense ought to prevail on all sides.
Mr Sharif has spoken of lessons learned from his 1999 ouster. He may want to consider learning some new lessons from his latest ouster. In the PTI, the PML-N has faced a hostile opponent intent on capturing power. But the PML-N, as Mr Sharif’s comments on Saturday suggest, has been more keen to pat itself on the back for not resorting to offensive politics rather than genuinely engaging the political opposition. The isolationist tendencies of Mr Sharif have meant that parliament has been ignored and both friends and potential allies have been kept at arm’s length – unless the PML-N is in trouble and needs their support. It is strange that Mr Sharif appears to have a clear-eyed understanding of what can sustain democracy in Pakistan but has been unable to bring himself to practise it. Politics, however, should be forward-looking. Mr Sharif has yet another chance to demonstrate that he and the PML-N can put the good of the system ahead of personal and party ambition.
Dawn News, August 7, 2017

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