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Why Nawaz is really targeted: The ‘boys’ see him as a threat

Published : Jul 3, 2017, 12:28 am IST
Updated : Jul 3, 2017, 12:28 am IST

The name Nawaz may mean votes in the bank, but there is no awe, great love or terrible fear. Nothing that approaches what the other side has.

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

Assume they’re right. The JIT isn’t about corruption. The investigation is just a vehicle to oust Nawaz. Old tricks adapted for new times.

Fine. We can go further. They — the permanent establishment, the boys, whomever — want to oust Nawaz because of what Nawaz represents and because of what Nawaz wants to do.

What he represents is danger, a popular politician from Punjab who dislikes and is disliked by the boys. What he wants to do is dangerous: rid us of proxies and focus on regional connectivity and trade.

The timing is convenient, just ahead of an election which Nawaz looks like he can win. Get him now and you’ve got him for good — shut out from the next election and then on for the next five years at least.

By then Nawaz would be an old man and the next generation ready to take over.

If that’s the game, the rest of us are all just passengers along for the ride. The boys will do what the boys think they need to do. Nawaz and co will fight until they can or up to the point they think it’s worth it.

But while they fight their wars and decide our fate, at least we can ask: has Nawaz really posed a threat?

Because all of it — why they’ve wanted to oust him and why they still need to oust him — rests on the premise that Nawaz is a danger and his agenda dangerous.

And that twin belief could just be megalomania on one side — Nawaz’s — and miscalculation on the other, the boys’.

Start with the danger that Nawaz the Punjabi politician is supposed to embody. When he calls, Punjab responds. But winning elections doesn’t necessarily filter down to policy fights.

When it comes to picking sides between Nawaz and the boys, most of Punjab is probably where it has mostly been: wanting the two to just get along. Sure, Punjab will vote for Nawaz, but will Punjab fight for Nawaz? Specially if the opponent is the boys? Probably not.

There’re many reasons historical and particular to Punjab for that, but there’s one specific to Nawaz too: for all his electoral success, he hasn’t built a formidable party machine dedicated to serving his agenda.

The name Nawaz may mean votes in the bank, but there is no awe, great love or terrible fear. Nothing that approaches what the other side has.

Real as Nawaz’s electoral support may be, it can’t be weaponised because its core is soft. It’s good enough to win elections, not enough to stand on and challenge the gods.

What winning elections does though is win you a seat at the table. From there, even if your electoral base is soft, you can try and ram through policy changes.

That’s the second part: the dangerous Nawaz agenda.

For all its weaknesses, the mere existence of an independent PMO’s is a potential threat because it’s impossible to fully control.

You can’t stop a Prime Minister from dreaming; you can’t stop his office from plotting; and because of the constraints of nominal democracy, you can’t immediately swat away all prime ministerial ideas and initiatives.

But then just have a look at Nawaz’s record this term.

Forget the bits where he’s been cut down, shut down or shoved aside. That was inevitable. It’s not like the other side was ever going to just surrender policy control.

The third term was the biggest opening Nawaz has ever had or arguably ever will — and it’s littered with rookie mistakes and unforced errors.

He refused to instal a foreign minister and only reluctantly installed a part-time defence minister. He chose to put Musharraf on trial instead of signing a trade deal with Congress ahead of the Indian election.

He insisted on talking to the Taliban for too long, allowing the boys to switch the militancy narrative themselves. He tried to talk to Modi but wasn’t able to terror-proof dialogue.

After Kashmir erupted, he’s remained stuck in the same incongruous gear. On Afghanistan, there is not a single idea or initiative that has emerged — not even at the level of theory.

CPEC is the great new arrival, but it was dreamt up by the Chinese and presented to us. The more damning thing is the lopsidedness of the loans and investments — 75 per cent dedicated to addressing the electricity deficit, a waste of a historic opportunity.

Round and round you can go, and even adjusting for all that Nawaz has been thwarted in doing and all that he’s been shut down on, there’s just no sign of the great big policy threat that he is supposed to be.

More obvious is the opposite: keeping him in place may be better than chucking him out. The fillip he’ll get from another election win won’t exceed the political capital he got after 2013.

Next time round, with a new US approach in Afghanistan and a confident Modi striding towards re-election, there’ll be even less space for a Nawaz doctrine regionally.

Economic take-off is certainly not imminent, meaning he won’t suddenly surge to massive popularity around 2020 or so. And most of all, the boys have figured out how to contain him — something they’d have to learn anew with Imran.

And yet the PML(N) remains convinced: the aim is to oust Nawaz because of the threat he is and the threat his agenda is.

They may be right. Or between megalomania and miscalculation may lie our fate yet again.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: nawaz sharif, joint investigation team, corruption