A lot at stake
Another matter that needs Sharif’s immediate attention is the state of PML-N itself. A sizeable number of members of parliament belonging to the ruling party were up in a mini-revolt against what they perceived as the arrogant attitude of the cabinet members
Nawaz Sharif is finally back in Lahore, now resting at his Raiwind abode. According to his doctors the prime minister will need an extended break before he can resume a modicum of official routine.
His state of health and his date of return to Pakistan after a quadruple by pass surgery in Londonwas a best kept secret. Apart from close family no one knew the real plan.
He left for London on May 22. Despite a lapse of more than six weeks not a single bulletin was officially issued about his state of health. All there was to rely upon were the occasional tweets of ostensible heir apparent Maryam Nawaz, ensconced in the prime minster house, and media conjectures about his return.
Naturally in this backdrop speculations were rife about the prime minister’s future. There are those who wishfully thought that he would not come back soon.
While there were others who refused to believe that he had a bypass surgery at all. According to this school of thought it was all a ruse to gain sympathy of the public and to avoid the onslaught of the opposition against the Sharif family on Panama leaks.
Critics rightly contend that during Sharif’s relatively long absence the red line between the personal and the official had been completely obliterated. Maryam, despite having no official position, received visitors including ambassadors at the prime minister house on daddy’s behalf.
According to officials she does not run the government nor directs ministers or secretaries. But according to her own admission she fulfilled the tasks that her father assigned her in his absence. What is the nature of these tasks no one knows? Perhaps her role was that of a gatekeeper in the absence of the prime minister.
On the official side the prime minister’s principal officer Fawad Hassan Fawad faxed him important summaries that were duly signed by him through the military secretary and returned. This is how the creaky ship of the Pakistani state was chugging along in the absence of a prime minister.
But is Pakistan a banana republic or a monarchy rather than a functioning democracy? Neither any cabinet meeting nor that of the parliamentary party’s was held in the prime minister’s prolonged absence. Officially, no one was minding the store.
Now that Sharif isback, he will have a lot to attend to during the coming days. On the top of the agenda will obviously be how to deal with an increasingly recalcitrant opposition bent upon taking to the streets on Panamagate implicating the prime minister’s family members.
The issue of including the PM’s name in the TORs for the proposed judicial commission to probe Panama leaks remains a bone of contention between the ruling party and the opposition in the parliament.
In reality this is more an issue of optics and symbolism for both the government and the opposition rather than that of substance. Even if Sharif’s name is not included in the TORs his family members, primarily his two sons and daughter, will have to explain the source of their income from which property was purchased in London. Hence implicitly the prime minister despite not being named will be in the dock.
Nonetheless the opposition perhaps feels that unless Sharif’s name is in the TORs the focus of the probe will be his family rather than him. But either way Panamagate already taints Sharif.
If morality has something to do with politics he should figure out a way to explain his position. After having failed to woo Zardari, the PML-N has apparently decided to launch a smear campaign against the PPP co-chairperson and his increasingly belligerent prodigal, Bilawal.
Shahbaz Sharif and Nisar Ali Khan have gone ballistic talking about the Swiss accounts of the Bhuttos. But this strategy has its limitations. The PPP is already out of power except in Sindh. It is the PML-N ruling at the federal level and in Punjab that has more to lose.
Another important issue that perhaps needs Sharif’s immediate attention is his relations with the khaki Sharif. According to insiders some members of the prime minister’s kitchen cabinet are counseling him to extend the term of the incumbent rather than nominating his successor. General Raheel Sharif is due to retire in November.
Critics rightly contend that during Sharif’s relatively long absence the red line between the personal and the official had been completely obliterated. Maryam, despite having no official position, received visitors including ambassadors at the prime minister house on daddy’s behalf
However, reportedly the prime minister is reluctant to do so. He reckons that as per merit the COAS should retire on time and in the meanwhile the process to nominate his replacement be initiated according to the constitution.
On the other hand General Raheel Sharif, through his spokesman, is already on record that he does not seek an extension in his term and will retire on time. Hence obviously apart from some prominent members of the prime minster’s team there are elements in the ubiquitous establishment who would like the present COAS to stay on at least for another year.
Prime Minister Sharif, who is his own foreign minister, has a number of issues relating to foreign policy — especially Pakistan’s deteriorating regional environment — to immediately deal with. In his absence the perception that the country is becoming increasingly isolated internationally and in the region has gained ground.
On the one hand critics contend that the military has usurped most of the functions of the foreign office that has merely become a post office. Especially relations with India, Afghanistan and the US have largely become the army leadership’s domain.
But on the other hand it is contended that in the absence of a full time minister somebody had to fill the vacuum. And the army simply did that. In any case with most foreign policy issues driven by national security rather than also by economics and trade, the establishment’s imprint has historically remained strong on policy as well as tactics.
Another related issue, not of Sharif’s making but one that needs immediate consultations with the military leadership, is the manifestly increased wave of terrorism launched by ISIS in the past week or so. After losing Fallujah ISIS has gone ballistic in the Islamic world.
Islamabad is in a state of denial about ISIS’s existence on its soil. But before it is too late we have to devise a strategy to deal with this imminent catastrophe. The prime minister should take the initiative.
In this context as well as owing to the fact at least for a couple of months Sharif will have to contend with a lighter schedule he needs to expand the cabinet. Perhaps he should start with appointing a full time foreign minister.
Another matter that needs Sharif’s immediate attention is the state of PML-N itself. A sizeable number of members of parliament belonging to the ruling party were up in a mini-revolt against what they perceived as the arrogant attitude of the cabinet members.
Perhaps as president of the party Sharif should summon a meeting of the parliamentary party as soon as he is able to. But in a milieu where cabinet meetings are not held for months this cannot be expected, unless there is a change of heart.