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Sharifs’ political options seem fast running out


RIDING the wave of back-to-back political follies as they enter into the second year of their third time rule, political options seem fast running out for the Sharifs-led PML-N dispensation. Unlike, the PPP which was able to complete its last term in office under “shrewd supervision” of former President Asif Zardari, the Sharifs still have to achieve this hallmark in the shaky Pakistani polity disturbed by frequent military interventions since late 50s. Sharifs seemed overly cautious this time as they took over power, but things suddenly starting slipping out of their grip, one after another – starting from Musharraf’s treason trial to government-garrison tussle, and now the Qadri saga.
Only last year, when PM Sharif came into power, many portrayed him as a prudent leader. But his latest overtures in power are sadly reflective of monarchial aspirations, thanks to his exile in the Arabian Kingdom.  Like Saudi monarchs, he has placed his family members, some officially and otherwise, on positions of direct and indirect influence. In a lighter vein some term it a government of family league run by brothers, sons, daughters, nephews, son-in-laws, father-in-laws of daughters and their sons, in-laws of sons, relatives of wives and so on. This style of dispensation directly resembles the ones in vogue in gulf sheikhdoms. 
With time fast running out, the upcoming month of Ramadan appears to be the grace period and a gift from heaven for Sharif brothers to correct their direction with particular emphasis on resolving some of the pending issues having a full potential to become nightmarish for them in times to come. They have already made the situation messy during their first year of rule by getting involved into useless issues which they could have easily averted simply by making sensible decisions at appropriate time when situation demanded from them. However, their thumping majority in the lower house of parliament and control of Punjab, the country’s biggest province, after last year’s polls had changed their perceptions unnecessarily while forgetting their bitter past experience when a PML-N government enjoying two-third majority in parliament was toppled in a bloodless coup just within few hours.
What to talk of its other blunders, the current political handling of Dr Tahirul Qadri and company by the government was so pathetic that it  just exposed the incompetence of the current government out of expectations. Despite media hype, Qadri could not draw any political support from major political parties as his demands cannot be fulfilled in the current system. He wants to change the system through revolution without any clear-cut plan, yet the government took it so seriously without realizing how to react. 
From last week’s blatant Lahore massacre till Qadri’s arrival on Monday, the government has not acted responsibly. Some credit should, however, be given to Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri for getting some political mileage out of every government’s immature move since he had announced his return to Pakistan last month. The failed approach on part of the government has by default boosted Qadri’s prospects as country’s agitator-in-chief , while at the same time depriving itself of getting the credit of military offensive in the tribal regions.  It appears that the government is extremely at a weak wicket as far as offensive in North Waziristan is concerned with military taking care of everything — be it in the operational area or securing major cities and towns with all its installations. Does the information minister or our instructive interior minister has any idea to brief on security measures being taken by the military on almost all roads and entry points of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the backdrop of operation Zarb-e-Azb. 
On Tuesday, while talking to media, the information minister who portrays to be surpassing all others when it comes to expressing loyalty with Sharif brothers, got a bit stuck while pronouncing “North Wazirstan”. It appeared as if Mr Pervez Rasheed with his deceptive looks is not much familiar with the name. Anyways, it does not seem that briefing on Waziristan battle would be Rasheed’s peace of cake. However, PM Sharif needs to have a team of competent persons at this crucial time to strengthen his political standing on war front. 
Leave alone many follies and shortcomings of the previous PPP-led coalition government, its political handling of military operation in Swat hill-station and other parts of Malakand region in 2009 was superb. Then too, it was the military, the only organization having full capacity and training, to look after most of the things related to war, its fallout and post-war situation but it is the job of political government to develop public opinion, boost up morale of the fighting soldiers and their families besides taking full ownership of war. 
So far, the PML-N government has missed the ship while its confusion compounds day by day. The straight shooting at unarmed civilians, including women and kids, was one extreme of PML-N’s rule in its heartland of Lahore while the running of police cops and the brutal treatment meted out to them by Qadri’s supporters in surroundings of Rawalpindi/Islamabad’s Benazir International Airport was another extreme form of its stupidity. The way Pervez Rasheed was explaining the saga of Islamabad police before media was nothing short of making one laugh as well as to shed tears. When will our leaders learn to talk from position of strength? Do we deserve such batch of ministers, information, interior and defence, at these trying times? At all critical moments since the current government was formed, the two federal ministers holding portfolios of interior and defence, have a record of taking one step forward while ten steps backward. And then for face-saving go into hibernation until to find an opportunity to speak up.
If track record of political and administrative follies is to be taken into account, one wonders what was the need for confronting the military, the country’s most powerful stakeholder, on Musharraf’s issue after his indictment in a treason case despite the army being reportedly assured that he will be given a safe passage? Prudence demanded from them to allow him to leave the country on humanitarian grounds. 
The beleaguered former president was repeatedly requesting to let him see his ailing mother. It certainly would have boosted Nawaz Sharif’s image, already playing mother-mother card with Narendra Modi, his Indian counterpart, if he had taken a position that: “Though, we were not allowed to attend the funeral of our father but my conscience does not allow me to respond in same manner.” This would not have only resolved one of his persisting problems but would certainly have enhanced his popularity as a leader. But his quest for revenge had locked his perception and now several top PML-N insiders believe that his obstinate stance had further widened the gulf between the government and army.

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