Battle of Rajanpur


Or Sharif dynasty’s Waterloo?

Once upon a time a great family ruled a great kingdom. Enemies tried long and hard to dislodge it. But they failed every time an effort was made in this regard. Nobody knew how to bring to an end to its unending rule. One day the king’s military commander – who was secretly not very happy with some of the things in the land – informed him that beyond his personal guards’ gaze a littloo, along with some other naughty friends, had entered the far end of the backyard and has established a play land of its own. He asked if he will be allowed to sort them out. But the king, fearing that the commander might be having some other motives, forbade him strictly and told him that he better look after the outer perimeters and let the internal guards take care of these minor things –which they are quite capable of.

After waiting for some time the commander again communicated to the king that the number of naughty boys was increasing as some other runaway spoiled brats had started joining them and that if he (the king) didn’t do something, he may order his boys to jump without his consent. He even winked to his most trusted lieutenant to announce as if the boys were really moving in. Feeling under immense pressure and fearing the commanders’ boys really entering his backyard, the king hurriedly ordered his ill-prepared  personal guards to do the needful; and quickly.

And that was it.

While all this was going on, a strong wind blew and blew away with it lots and lots of papers from the personal treasure of the king. Those were important papers relating to personal belongings and hereditary rights to power which could prove damaging to the dynasty in case these ended up in wrong hands. So, the king frenziedly started running hither and thither to get hold of some of them to control the extent of damage. But the papers were so widely scattered that some of them landed in wrong places and started to cause huge losses. It was like a rat race which drove the king crazy – almost.

In the meanwhile it turned out that the problem in the backyard was much bigger for the personal guards to handle. Fighting for scores of days, and losing and ending up giving hostages to the littloo group, they finally raised their hands in helplessness and called for help. The king, feeling the heat from every side all at once, looked at the commander with a meaningful gesture and sat down sheepishly.

And the rest is history.

But far away in some recess the king and the devil met to ponder whether if there was something they could do to send the commander’s boys out of the backyard and, if possible, from the rest of the kingdom’s non-fauji corners.

To be continued…

Despite an abrupt and somewhat unconvincing ending, it’s a good story. But forget good, old stories. This is supposed to be a political column, discussing some current developments and its implications. So let’s start our usual political chatter.

Political situation in the country, as one of our teachers put it, has entered a new phase of confusion. And true; one bizarre development after the other leaves you with a sense of bewilderment and without a clue as to how to connect the dots and what to make out of it. There is an opposition that is hell bent to force the government start some meaningful investigations into allegations of financial malpractices by the Sharif family. There is a government which appears flexible to some extent to accommodate the opposition demands. Yet it is also continuing to make the usual follies to invite avoidable troubles, like prompting supporters for a protest demonstration in front of Jamima’s house in London. One fails to understand who advised the ruling party to do such a political nonsense abroad when it has a lot of serious things to do to undo the damage that it has suffered during the recent weeks and months at home. Above all, how will its supporters oppose Imran Khan if he decided to go ahead with his program of laying siege to the Sharifs’ palaces in Raiwind?

The serious matters are the Panama Papers’ leaks which have coincided with the start of the military operation in Punjab. This situation may prove a defining moment in the development of Pakistan’s politics for a long time to come.

Nawaz Sharif’s political fortunes are under attack both from within and without. The Panama Papers are negatively affecting his political support base; while the army clearly wants to go inside the Punjab province both as part of its long- and short-term objectives. The obvious purpose, according to the military’s stand-point, is to help the civilian law enforcement agencies to flush out runaway terrorists, criminals and other such religious/sectarian and banned outfits which may pose a threat at any time in future. But the Sharifs are not buying this idea. They are considering it a serious infringement into their power bastion – and may be rightly so.

Erosion in popular support due to Panama Papers is long-term loss while army’s entry into the province – for God knows which purposes – is a short-term adverse consequence  which the ruling brothers can ill-afford. This is the seriousness of the issue as they see it and that’s why they seem standing on the verge of making some important decision which will have long-term consequences for future development of the political system.

Nawaz Sharif has two choices; one, to side with other political parties (PPP, ANP, JUI (F), PkMAP, etc) and deny the army whichever space it wants on ground and in the political/policy-making domain; the other is to submit to army advances to save itself from the onslaught of the opposition as well as the wrath of omnipotent military establishment.

Though the latter one is easy to make, the decision will have grave ramifications both for the Sharif family and the democratic system. For the Sharif family it may prove to be the beginning of the end in Punjab; for the system, it will be a more and unrealistically increased influence and say of the military in non-military affairs – and that will be for the foreseeable future.

The other choice, that is PML (N)’s coming near the political forces to evolve a joint strategy to resist the army’s push, though theoretically viable, is practically very difficult to make. This is because of many reasons. First and foremost are the internal differences and ideological divisions among the political parties that may not allow them to present a united front to the army. Second is the lost credibility and popular support which political forces have suffered because of political inefficiency and financial impropriety. Third, Rajanpur has exposed everything about the civilians. And fourth is the likely opposition from the establishment if it got a clue that PML (N) and PPP (or other major political parties, for that matter) are coming closer to cooperate and help each other. And everyone knows how effectively they bounce back when push comes to shove and how many different ways they have to achieve what they want.

Keeping in view all these hurdles, difficulties and dangers, we may not see a clear policy shift in PML (N)’s handling of the situation – that is – apparently. But to fight back and make a room for itself and other political forces to maneuver in a little bit, Nawaz Sharif can do certain things which can be for the good of all, i.e. himself, political parties, democracy, armed forces and the country.

He should be flexible to accommodate the demands of the opposition parties in the formation of a consensus, independent commission to investigate the allegation against all PEPs (Politically Exposed Persons) so that a political crisis is averted; and he should announce an early election sometime in the first half of next year. This will enable him to claim that he presented himself for accountability in the court of the people, even though exaggerated or false allegations were made against his family members.

As for the military operation in his home province, apparently he has little to do except to live with the obtaining situation for the time being; and to crucify Skhera for that. The battle of Rajanpur is lost; Punjab has fallen. However, he can shorten this period by calling early elections. It’s better to live to fight another day.