By Danyaal Khaliq
Four years ago, Mr Sharif won his third term as Prime Minister of Pakistan. On that day, I sat down to write him a letter which, incidentally, I never sent. I was reminded, that day, of my first significant memory of Pakistani politics. It was of sitting in London and watching the news that the PM of my country had turned us into a laughing stock. I remember seeing the news footage of people handing out sweets in the streets. It was quite odd. You see, on that fateful day, Mr Sharif summarily dismissed the COAS (without completing the correct paper work – a pattern forms), and was quite prepared to exile him to India. Now, had he simply fired the man, allowed his plane to land, and then had him arrested and whisked away, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Moreover, if he had let that plane land in Pakistan, without threatening exile to India, and the man had proceeded to depose Mr Sharif in a military coup, in all likelihood I would have taken his side! But instead, Mr Sharif did what he did, and the army fearing the worst, decided his time was up.
Now, I admit, I do have my biases (everyone has a bias), but I don’t write this as a way of taking sides, only to identify a certain personality trait. Mr Sharif, as must be self-evident by now, is prone to spectacular acts of self-sabotage. The latest, and frankly most amusing, is Calibrigate. Here was a case where the defendant proudly produced evidence that would prove him to be completely above board, and transparent, and yet resulted in him effectively becoming triable for perjury, forgery and fraud!
Forgive me, I’ve been distracted. I was about to tell you about this letter. I sat down and started typing. At first, it was quite a disrespectful letter, but I realised that this man was now my Prime Minister, and regardless of my opinion of his previous performance, he deserved the opportunity to prove himself. The thing is, it seems he didn’t really want to. In my letter, I wrote this:
Try not to annoy the army. Now, I’ve heard about your ego, but please, listen to your brother on this one. You’ll be perceived to be the bigger man if you let Gen. Musharraf off the hook. Simultaneously, you won’t annoy the army. Before I forget, try not to storm the Supreme Court if they say something you don’t like, because things have changed since you were last PM, and now the Supreme Court is a holier than thou institution that we don’t tend to question. Focus on the issues.
In your 5 years, you need to deal with a number of issues. Nobody expects you to be the messiah and solve all of them – that is an expectation we reserve for Imran. Firstly, we face serious, widespread, government endorsed corruption. I mean for God’s sake, even the Saudis (in Wikileaks) have talked about how we’re corrupt…that should be a warning. Now, as your good friend the Saudi King has stated so wisely, ‘a fish begins to rot at its head’. So your starting point is to set a personal example of honesty and integrity. I’m not going to ask where you got your wealth (after the NRO, I’m not sure it matters anyway) but from here on in, you need to be a paragon of virtue befitting the ameer-ul-momineen. While we’re on that subject – no, you cannot be the ameer-ul-momineen (we’ve got enough problems with our perception in the west, not to mention those chaps from the country next door trying to hijack our religion).
I don’t know, dear reader, if you’ve noticed, but he did go head to head with the Army again, and stayed in office through sheer luck, and because Gen. Raheel chose to give him some more rope. It turns out, Mr Sharif did respect the Supreme Court this time, but didn’t expect it to be as proactive as it has been. Of course, it turns out, thanks to Panama, it really did matter where his wealth came from.
After decades of dark clouds welling, it turns out Mr Sharif couldn’t avoid the rain forever. The whole tapestry begins to unravel, because of the font in which I’m writing this (and for the record, I couldn’t have used in 2006!). Strike 3. Nawaz Sharif, the (allegedly) corrupt, power hungry Prime Minister of Pakistan is no more. Disqualified for life. It finally looks like the judiciary and the media are doing their job a little better. Institutionally we still have a long way to go, but this is a good start. The constitution needs to be amended again to increase checks on power. As it stands right now, the PM and President were one and the same. While both the media and judiciary are more active, like toddlers discovering their newfound strength and agility, they will learn over time that they too should and do have limitations. The secret to democracy is in the balance. No one institution can be allowed to be all powerful, all the time, without one of the other institutions reigning it in.
Can you wait to see what happens next? At the very least, this whole affair sets a precedent that should caution the so called political leaders of Pakistan, that the legacy of a stronger judiciary and media has been created. No longer is the army Pakistan’s only loyal and effective opposition. This moment has been a long time in the making, and believe it or not – it’s positive for our country. It started when Gen. Musharraf set the media free. The media turned on him, and fed strength to the judiciary. Gen. Musharraf, though he could have turned full dictator, chose to leave instead. Those were the initial stages of a reborn judicial institution. It wasn’t perfect at the time, and it isn’t perfect now. However, the judiciary, newly empowered, finds that it can enforce a little thing called the constitution. We have, for the first significant time, in Pakistan’s history, held a sitting Prime Minister accountable for his actions, his lies, and his misdeeds, without demanding a coup. We did this. Gen. Musharraf did this. Most of all, Mr Sharif did this to himself. Calibri. Rosebud. I wonder if like Charles Foster Kane, Mr. Sharif will be haunted by Calibri. I should think so. After all, it’s just a font, and he was the Prime Minister of the sixth largest country in the world. You wouldn’t think something so small, could bring down such a big deal.