Feb 23, 2009
Politics of belligerence
IN the light of recent political developments, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s declaration of war against the regime he helped to come to power only a year ago was to be expected. Addressing his party workers in Raiwind on Saturday, Mr Sharif accused President Asif Zardari of conspiring to have him disqualified from contesting the polls. He alleged that Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was orchestrating the downfall of the Punjab government led by his brother Shahbaz Sharif. Simultaneously, he launched an aggressive defence of his patriotic credentials, saying that he conducted the 1998 nuclear tests despite opposition even from the military, and in fact saved the army at Kargil from the ignominy of defeat and condemnation. He said that his agenda was pro-Pakistan and that he could not care less if he lost the government in Punjab in his attempt to fulfill it. A day earlier at a press conference, Mr Sharif had said that generals who toppled elected governments were worse terrorists than those fighting the state. Declaring that he and his party would take an active part in the lawyers’ long march next month, he had vowed to take the protest to its ‘logical conclusion’ of restoring Iftikhar Chaudhry as chief justice. Quite naturally, there was an angry reaction from the other side, with Governor Taseer and other PPP members visibly upset at his pronouncements. However, with realisation dawning on the PPP that this would only worsen the situation, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to assure him that his government was not threatened. But this pacifying call has come too late to stall Mr Sharif’s offensive that is evidently being carried out to malign the government and to shore up his popularity — especially in a situation where he could be disqualified by the courts from holding public office. At the same time, he appears to want to send a signal to the ‘establishment’ that his complaints against individual commanders notwithstanding, he still has the credentials to become their favourite horse. Can he achieve his goals without finding himself on the wrong side of the establishment or foregoing his popular appeal? His track record in striking such a balance is not very inspiring. Still, Mr Sharif might feel encouraged to believe that support for him by the establishment has been the rule and that his 1999 ouster was an exception to that rule.