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  Opinion   Columnists  18 Sep 2017  As Nawaz goes, and keeps quiet, the ‘system’ too shuts up

As Nawaz goes, and keeps quiet, the ‘system’ too shuts up

Published : Sep 18, 2017, 12:11 am IST
Updated : Sep 18, 2017, 12:11 am IST

Nawaz with his base in Punjab and mind set on peace with India is a policy-politics threat that would always have to be managed.

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Photo: AP)
 Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Photo: AP)

If he shuts up, they shut up. It’s what it seems to come down to. Because there was, and remains, a bit of a mystery at the heart of the ouster.

If it was about accountability, accountability was already dead. The London apartments are from the ’90s, as was everything directly against Zardari.


In a decade of democracy, there’s nothing new that’s come up. The iqama is new, but the embarrassment of having to hang an ouster on it has forced attention away from it.

If it was about the judiciary asserting its primacy, other recent events with the judiciary and among lawyers have demonstrated that it’s business as ugly usual.

Sure, if you’re the PM, you’ve got to worry about the courts, but the courts don’t seem particularly keen on bringing the iron hammer of the law down in areas far and wide.

If it was about the boys wanting to get their way, it wasn’t like anyone was stopping them from getting their way anyway. There’s nothing that Nawaz had actually won against them. And they had clearly figured out how to contain him. Better, then, to leave the dagger hanging above him than to plunge it in.


From inside the system, Nawaz had an obvious interest in stability and continuity. From outside, you risk him becoming a loose cannon and keeping everything uncertain and unstable.

The fierce, angry polemics in the immediate aftermath of the ouster and the GT Road defiance demonstrated the danger. But then things went quiet.

The braying and bleating lot on TV suddenly turned low energy. The next phase of the Sharifs’ legal woes got off to an uncertain start. The wild threats to national security quietly receded.

Seven weeks since the biggest shake up in decades of civilian political history, it’s like we didn’t just lose a PM. It’s almost like we never had Nawaz.


Part of it is likely Kulsoom’s illness. You can’t have a slashing, bitter contest when the biggest candidate, an elderly woman no less, is getting emergency cancer treatment.

Part of it is likely IK. He doesn’t like sharing the PTI spotlight and so the party candidate has had to toil in relative national anonymity. Part of it is the Sharif family drama. The Shahbaz side is sulking and plotting; Maryam is finding her political feet; and the party is worried and frozen, unsure of who will lead them into next year’s election. But it still doesn’t quite add up.

Until you factor in one more thing: Nawaz has shut up. He’s out of the country and he’s not talking. And, it seems, as long as Nawaz is willing to shut up — and possibly stay out of the country — they’re willing to shut up too.


If you’re willing to be adventurous, you can even guess that they’re telegraphing a message to Nawaz: look, we’re not trying to hurt you and we don’t want to do anything more than what’s happened.

Keep your billions, enjoy your apartments, hang out with your grandkids and look after the wife. Just put some distance between yourself and Pakistan and the PML(N) and everything can be all right. If he shuts up, they shut up.

The sceptic will see that it’s already a case of mission accomplished. We have, in effect, a technocratic, apolitical PM. He’s unobtrusive, stays in his lane and is non-threatening.

The sceptic will note that minus Nawaz there is no real PML(N), not in a sense of seriously challenging anything that the boys care about.


The avoid-confrontation-with-institutions silliness of some in the PML(N) is just code for doing business, carving up the state between the boys and the civilians to the satisfaction of both and the misery of the people. But there seems something more, something personal, with Nawaz.

The civilians had the temerity recently to speak of past national sins and the need to move the state off the path of non-state jihad, and it barely elicited a response from the boys and their proxies in the media.

If Nawaz did that, well, we’ve seen what happened. So cooperation with the civilians on civilian priorities that the boys may grudgingly recognise as the right choice is not entirely ruled out. Only with Nawaz. What is it about Nawaz?


It seems to be about personality — what they think of him and what they believe he thinks of them.

Nawaz with his base in Punjab and mind set on peace with India is a policy-politics threat that would always have to be managed. But the old and well-known are also the well-understood and expertly countered.

So maybe what drove them over the edge was that Nawaz acted like he was above them, better than them. His dislike, arguably contempt, for judges and generals was on full display in his last year in office. See, the Panama hearings and the Raheel exit.

So when he was at their mercy, there was none to be had. Nawaz got done to him what he probably fantasised about doing to judges and generals, if he had the power.


And now, with him gone and, at least temporarily, having shut up, they are showing they are better than him by giving him an option: if he shuts up, they shut up.

So the weirdest ouster among the many ousters we’ve had has already given way to business as ugly usual.

Accountability is dead, the courts seemed uninterested in extending their primacy far and wide, and the boys get to have their way and look conciliatory too. If he shuts up, they shut up.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: nawaz sharif, democracy, kulsoom nawaz