News Analysis Shahbaz’s return a govt dilemma
By Mubasher Bukhari
LAHORE The government is in a dilemma over what to do when Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president and former Punjab chief minister, returns on May 11. Arresting or deporting him would be a political victory for Shahbaz.
Deportation was Shahbaz’s worst fear. That is why he took several weeks to make a final decision about returning. Before announcing his comeback, he made several approaches to various government quarters asking what would happen if he ended his exile. He always got the same reply: he would be put on the first flight back to Jeddah.
Intentionally or unintentionally, Shahbaz announced he was returning at a public meeting in the United Kingdom, but did not disclose the date. Soon after the announcement, political circles and PML-N activists pressed him to say when, but he delayed his answer.
However, realising the delay in announcing the date of his return was jeopardising his political credibility, Shahbaz made the plunge. Now that he is commited, he is not afraid of deportation or his likely arrest. His sole aim, and hope, is to win a political and moral victory by entering Pakistan.
The government has to decide what to do when Shahbaz boards the plane to Lahore. It could deport or arrest him, but that would be difficult after the Supreme Court ruled it could not legally stop him from coming back to Pakistan. It could conjure up a mechanical failure and divert his flight, but that would be a very temporary solution and hard to do as well.
The only way to stop his return lies in the palaces of Jeddah where Shahbaz’s family is staying as guests of the Saudi royal family. Only Mian Sharif and Nawaz Sharif can abort his return at the eleventh hour.
Interestingly, the words and deeds of the ruling elite regarding Shabaz’s return and the government’s action differ. Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and other government functionaries are apparently relaxed, claiming that Shahbaz will not return. But the crackdown on PML-N activists and the arrests of hundreds of workers tells a different story, one of the government’s nervousness. Shahbaz will be the winner, even if his plane enters Pakistani airspace and then flies back to Abu Dhabi.
Perhaps the only way the government can save face and turn its possible political defeat into a victory is to let Shahbaz land and send him to the family estate in Raiwind.