By Tirthankar Mitra
Comparison can hardly be drawn between the rise of a phoenix from ashes to return of former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif from a self-imposed exile from London to the country he had left four years ago. For neither unlike a phoenix, Sharif will not be enjoying an untroubled existence once he landed in Pakistan nor did he rise from the ashes as though shorn of imperial glory can London be compared to an ash heap.
Since 2019, Sharif had been a fugitive after he failed to appear before a Pakistani court. He has been convicted and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment on corruption charges. It was Sharif’s principal political rival, the then prime minister Imran Khan who allowed him to travel abroad for medical treatment. He had complained of chest pains.
Time was when a popular saying among Pakistani masses stated that Nawaz Sharif had two ailments; his appendix and Imran Khan. Nothing is heard these days about his appendix while Khan is marking time behind the bars.
The time was most opportune for Sharif’s return. Moreover, even if Shahbaz Sharif has stepped down from the prime minister’s post this year, given the dynamics of Pakistani politics he carries enough clout to ensure his elder sibling enjoys a safe passage to Pakistan.
Having touched base at Lahore, his old bastion of strength, Sharif who is no stranger to exile will soon emerge into the limelight. Overthrown in a military coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1990, he was convicted of corruption and given life sentence for hijacking over an incident when he ordered Musharraf’s aircraft not to land in Islamabad.
Sharif returned from exile in 2008 as part of a political deal. But he lost the election to Benazir Bhutto’s party only to be elected the prime minister for the third time in 2013. Names of Sharif’s family members came up in the leakage of the Panama papers, he was disqualified from office after Pakistan Supreme Court for not declaring income from a company in United Arab Emirates. But it was not in the original Panama papers.
In 2017, Sharif was banned from holding political office for life. He had served half of his seven year jail term in Al Azizia corruption case when higher court allowed him bail for four weeks on medical ground. Sharif has been granted several days of protection from arrest by a federal court. He plans to appeal for leniency and his party PML(N) says he seeks to become prime minister for the fourth time. Things appear to be propitious for Nawaz Sharif. He had appointed Asim Munir as Pakistan’s military chief.
There is no love lost between former Prime Minister Imran Khan and Munir. Sharif has alleged that Khan removed Munir from the post of ISI chief after the latter confronted the prime minister with proof over corruption involving his wife. Sharif seems to be following a principle which may be dogeared but holds good till this day. It is “enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
An old hand in the game, Sharif is training his guns on runaway inflation and dependence of Pakistan’s economy on International Monetary Fund (IMF) if multiple videos shared on X formerly known as Twitter are anything go by. They show the sorry state of Pakistan’s economy and political scenario.
Sharif before flying from Dubai into Pakistan regretted the “very chaotic” condition of his destination. But he expressed confidence that his party, PML(N) can lead the country out of the chaos it is passing through.
“I get very worried and disappointed seeing the situation of the country” Sharif said. ” The country had to move forward is going backward now economically and unity-wise” he said and added that the situation was “worrisome”.
“When I remember Pakistan back then, I get hurt; we had said goodbye to the International Monetary Fund, electricity was cheap, rupee was stable, there was employment, roti cost Rs 4, a poor family’s child went to school and medicines were also cheap.” Sharif said as if delivering an election address harking back to his period in office.
But there is still hope, Sharif said and added “we should not let it slip from our hands as we are capable of fixing it as we have split it ourselves.” It requires no brain wave to decipher the identity of who he is pointing it out as “ourselves” who let hope,”slip.”
Obviously it was the regime headed by Imran Khan who promised a popular dispensation but it turned out to be something unacceptable. Years amidst the English fog and cold has not dampened Sharif’s sharp political thinking.
The country has to get back on its feet, Sharif said as nobody is going to lift us up. No prizes for guessing at whom he is accusing of for bringing Pakistan down on its knees as he was not even around. Imran Khan’s disqualification from contesting elections owing to graft conviction in Toshakhana case in August is being considered by Pakistan watchers to be a factor in Sharif’s favour. Khan, however, has appealed against his disqualification.
It is no secret that even an elected government cannot run Pakistan sans the army’s blessings. Attacks on army head quarters by Khan’s supporters have already blotted their leader’s copybook.
Given the legal situation, it is too early to state Sharif’s passage to the office of the prime minister of Pakistan will be a cakewalk on the fourth occasion. But he certainly has an edge over his political rivals in the event the judiciary says aye to his bid to contest the elections. (IPA Service)