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Nawaz may not know how to get what he really wants

Published : Aug 21, 2017, 12:08 am IST
Updated : Aug 21, 2017, 12:08 am IST

It was always a low-probability event — Nawaz wasn’t suddenly about to become more than the sum of his politics.

Ousted Pak PM Nawaz Sharif waves to his supporters during a rally in Muridke, Pakistan. (Photo: AP/File)
 Ousted Pak PM Nawaz Sharif waves to his supporters during a rally in Muridke, Pakistan. (Photo: AP/File)

Karachi: And now we wait. Wait for them to break him. Wait and see how they’ll do it. Wait and see what it’ll mean for the rest of us. Because Nawaz is trapped. Trapped by himself.

There’s no need to pussyfoot around. Nawaz has no plan. He knows what he wants, but he doesn’t know how to get it. And neither of those things is good for — or even about — the rest of us.

What Nawaz wants is obvious. He wants the PML(N) to win the next election. That’s possible. He wants to find a way back into the system. That’s unlikely. And he wants Maryam to eventually succeed him. That’s the X factor in all of this.

The thing about political capital — which Nawaz has topped up with the GT Road tamasha — is that you have to know what to do with it.

Last weekend was a fork in the road. The fanciful path — the one to strengthening the democratic project — was if Nawaz had installed himself as an éminence grise, the wise old man of politics steering things from outside. Look, the system isn’t working and we all know why, Nawaz could have said. I’m now out but here’s what you guys — my party, the other parties — can do to help fix things.

It had to be big-ticket stuff. A new accountability regime. A justice revolution at the grass roots. Unshackling the economy. An admission that the existing PML(N) strategy had failed.

It was always a low-probability event — Nawaz wasn’t suddenly about to become more than the sum of his politics. But neither side of the fork was about meekness. The other option was violent collision. You want me, come and get me. I’ll burn everything to the ground.

A mystery about Nawaz has been his coyness this time round. While he still had his job, it may have made sense — if you don’t react to the attack, they may not go all the way.

But even then it didn’t always make sense. He allowed a seven-month spell of political torture, bookended by two irruptions by the boys, because he was unable to tell successive chiefs — enough.

What’s done is done, now cut the crap and let’s get back to business. But he didn’t and he ended up losing his job anyway. And even now he’s being coy. Everyone knows what he’s trying to say, so why not just say it?

I, your rightful prime minister, believe that the military has colluded with the judiciary to remove me because I want friendship with India and peace in Afghanistan.

This isn’t about corruption, this is about power and control and conflict over what kind of country Pakistan should be. Just say it.

What’s the worst they can do? Chuck him in jail?

Possibly. Probably. Yes. So what? Unless, of course, Nawaz doesn’t think this business of politics is worth going to jail for.

And so, when he arrived at the fork last weekend, Nawaz chose neither the good path nor the bad one and tried instead to find a middle way. A stupid middle way that has failure written all over it.

You can see what he’s trying to do: gather enough political capital to prevent the other side from dismantling his party and eliminating his side of the family from the political frame.

It’s a strategy of self-survival based on the idea that by gaining fresh support in the political arena he’s increasing the cost of what the other side wants to do to him in the power arena. But because it’s obvious, it’s stupid. From here, they’ve got him. Because Nawaz wants to cling on in a system that he doesn’t want to improve and in which he has the fewer options.

Why won’t he just let go? That’s probably the wrong question. Why should he let go? He’s built a political machine that dominates the biggest province in the land.

Find a man who would just walk away from a prize like that and you’ll have found a man better than Nawaz — and everyone else.

But the bigger mistake has been to not groom Maryam earlier. She is wildly unprepared to bring to heel the beasts that are Punjab politics and the PML(N). Her ambition is the inverse of her experience.

So Nawaz is stuck — even if he wanted to let go, Maryam isn’t ready to take over yet. You almost — almost — have to feel sorry for him. Because it will be a cruel process by which they’ll whittle him down politically from here.

They may do it methodically or they may do it extravagantly. They can do it through the courts or they can do it through his own party.

They may leave him to twist in the wind, politically bloodied but doltishly hopeful, or they may just brutally decapitate him.

It’ll depend on what they need and when. Maybe the electoral veneer will be deemed worth keeping, maybe there’s a deal to be had in Punjab. And if you can’t bring yourself to feel sorry for Nawaz, feel sorry for yourself — and for all of us. Because this democracy thing is done. Maybe not in form, but already in substance. The other side is the anti-democrats. By definition they aren’t out to fix democracy or force substantive change; they want control and democracy is the opposite of control. So all we had was the possibility of the democracy side doing helpful things for the democratic project when the moment arrived. The moment arrived and Nawaz had nothing.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: nawaz sharif, pml(n)