ISLAMABAD: With the media overly focused on the PPP, Nawaz Sharifís PML has been sneakily enjoying the best of both worlds — power in the Punjab and opposition in Islamabad. The about turn on the constitutional package has exposed the larger problems of the PML-Nís decision-making apparatus. Nawaz Sharifís quirkiness may just be the tail of the elephantine mess of politically incorrect trends and contradictions developed in the last two years.

The PML-N has become increasingly the Punjab — some say Lahore — centric. It did not get enough seats in the last elections from provinces other than the Punjab because, admittedly, it did not get enough time to campaign. It continues to take other provinces for granted. As if they are bound to fall into the PML-N’s lap just because of the PPPís dismal performance and the PML-Qís virtual ouster from the electoral ring. This may not be true. The PML-N took credit in the past for bringing ethnic, religious and nationalist parties into mainstream politics. It was partners with parties like the MQM, the ANP, the JUI, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the BNM and the BNP at one time or another, but stands totally isolated now.

It has a war with the MQM; a tussle with the ANP over the renaming of the NWFP; tension with the JUI-F as Maulana Fazlur Rehman feels more comfortable with its coalition partner Asif Zardari; fight with the Jamaat-e-Islami as proven in the recent Lahore by-election; and no political relations with the Baloch nationalists who are in coalition with the PPP in Quetta. It has become more a symbol of division than cohesion.

The isolation is less because of policies than the arrogance that oozes out of top PML-N leaders. They are so confident about a repeat of 1997 when they got their famous ëheavy mandateí in the next elections that they think they do not need anybody. A culture of sycophancy that was the hallmark of their two earlier governments, contributing to their fall, has already seeped in. With a vengeance, they say.

A former principal secretary, who thought he was ultimate in sweet talk, said he was outsmarted recently by a former ambassador who advises Nawaz on foreign policy, rather badly I must say. Nawaz was musing that “if I became the prime minister” when suddenly his words were hijacked by the ambassador. ìHow can you say If prime minister,” he protested so loudly that everybody was taken aback. Nawaz tried to move on but the ambassador did not let him proceed until he conceded that he was the prime minister, already was and will always be. He was addressed as prime minister during exile and, they say, he still likes it.

The joke in the party is that his best adviser is his masseur because he knows which words to say by pulling which nerve. And there are lots of ëpolitical malashiasí around. The likes of man mountain Sohail Zia Butt are welcomed in the court because they provide comic relief to the ‘PM’.

A policy of convenient amnesia is practised where principles are increasingly compromised at the altar of expediency. The PML like-minded group of 53 Punjab MPAs (basically Q turncoats) has been conveniently accepted. All of them have the SHOs and Tehsildars of their choice appointed in their areas. Shahbaz Sharif stirred hype by throwing out nearly 6,000 ëcorruptí officials when he became the CM. Most of them, particularly ranks below DCOs and DPOs, are back as desired by local MPAs and MNAs. So much for the good governance. This has contributed to the wave of unending corruption and crime in the Punjab, making it easier for the Taliban to consolidate their hold.

Turncoats, Rana Nazir and Sahi brothers, have already been accepted. Negotiations were held for accepting many more when the Governorís Rule was imposed in the Punjab. It is quite possible that Chaudhry Shujaat, Mushahid Hussain, Khurshid Kasuri and virtually everyone, except Sheikh Rashid and Pervaiz Elahi, might be taken back before the next elections.

This prompts contradictions. The dictatorship of Musharraf was bad but not that of Zia, as the recent electoral victory of Zia League candidate proved in Bahawalnagar. The PML-N did not put up a candidate. The PML-Nís ideology, if any, is as much confusing as the definition of the right and the left in Pakistan. Traditionally, the party was right of the Centre. Lately, it is swinging ëboth waysí to the extreme. Claims were made to the true legacy of Bhutto.

Nawaz Sharif, we were told, was practising on Bhuttoís speeches; Shahbaz Sharif started reciting Jalib and Faiz in public. It should take more than Jalibís recitation to be a progressive, particularly for someone who cannot even declare his wives.

The swings to the extreme right have been worse, if not dangerous. The country and its Army are fighting the biggest fight of their history against terrorism. Yet the second biggest party, which is also the government-in-waiting, extends a muted support. The PML-N has never declared the war against terror as the biggest issue of the country. Like it or not, this has been the single largest encouragement for the Taliban. Talibanisation is growing and bomb explosions are ripping through the entire Punjab. Yet we wait for a heavy crackdown on Madrassas or militant outfits with a bated breath.

Who is the biggest influence on Nawaz Sharif for his drift towards the extreme right? Some say itís his speechwriter who was given an honourary sash at Akhora Khattakís famous Madrassa that produced half of the Jihadis. Others say there are lots of men like MPA Saeed Elahi who profess to be an ex-Jihadi with continuing links. Half of Nawaz Sharifís team, like Raja Zafarul Haq, Chaudhry Nisar and Javed Hashmi, was groomed in the Jihadi nursery of Ziaul Haq. Still others allege that Nawaz Sharif himself is more a Taliban than all of them. But then, this may be an exaggeration about his quirky aberrations. A group of journalist friends, while seeing him in the Prime Minister’s House, asked him why he had got all billboards with the women pictures removed and banned the shampoo ads. His response was that they were showing women shampooing hair, which incited ëwrong ideasí (Ganday Khayalat) in minds. ìMian Sahib, if they will not show hair in a shampoo ad, will it be your or my bald heads,î Mohammad Malick of The News could not resist saying. Mian Sahib was bald till then.

No harm in being on the right side of ideology. The Jamaat-e-Islami opposes the Army operation and itís a declared position, which, by the way, got them mere 3,000 votes in Lahore. Nawaz Sharif should declare whatever position his party has on such issues. It should not trickle out only in slips of the tongue.

Pervaiz Rashid was asked: who was the biggest ideologue in the party? ëNawaz Sharifí pat came the answer. “Hum Bhi dekhain gain.”

The series continues

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Date: Monday, March 29, 2010