Diarchy is the Name of the Game

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Pakistan Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the PM House in Islamabad.
DO THEY SEE EYE TO EYE? Pakistan Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the PM House in Islamabad.

Diarchy in the civilian dispensation seems to be having its ripple down effect on the prized discipline of Pakistan’s armed forces. That is no consolation to the layman already weighed down by rampant violence, fanaticism and terrorism in the country

KARAMATULLAH K GHORI

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]ead wrong are those pundits who often go on a flight of fancy and compare the two Sharif Brothers—Nawaz and Shahbaz—to Mughal princes.

The comparison couldn’t be more wrong for the simple historic fact that the Mughal Empire in India was moth-eaten by sibling rivalry. Fratricide was the favorite sport of the Mughal princes. In the end their fetish for it ruined the empire and made it history.

The Sharif Brothers, in stark contrast, are as thick with each other as honey and milk. They aren’t known for their scholarship—not by a long shot—but seem to have imbibed this immutable lesson of history to their heart that sibling rivalry is poison for any dynasty, or dynastic ambitions. So, while striving hard to mutate the Sharif rule into the Sharif Dynasty, they have been hard at work to ensure there aren’t any chinks in their armor that their detractors and rivals could exploit to harm them.

Diarchy is the name of the game in Islamabad. The younger Sharif isn’t supposed to have any role in the running of the federal setup but is a regular visitor to the nation’s capital, so much so that his rivals and critics taunt him for having one foot in Lahore and the other in Islamabad.

It may serve Nawaz Sharif well to parcel out chunks of his load of responsibilities to his younger brother. After all, who could he trust more than his own kin? There’s all the more justification for it if the philosophy ruling the roost with the Brothers is to run the country like their own family limited company, if not their fief. That’s how they ran the Ittefaq Group founded by their father, who nurtured in his progeny a basic rule of good business: keep all the wealth under the family canopy.

Shahbaz Sharif may formally wear the hat of Punjab’s Chief Minister—or its Khadim-e-Aala (principal servant) according to his slogan---but he has also been wearing another hat on his head and shouldering the burden of Pakistan’s informal Deputy PM. Shahbaz’ input counts a great deal in most major decisions taken by the government
Shahbaz Sharif may formally wear the hat of Punjab’s Chief Minister but he has also been wearing another hat on his head and shouldering the burden of Pakistan’s informal Deputy PM. His input counts a great deal in most major decisions taken by the government

The phenomenal rise of the Sharif conglomerate is evidence of wonders that could be achieved by keeping all of one’s egg in one basket. But don’t ask the question how much has political clout of the family added to its nest of golden eggs.

Shahbaz may formally wear the hat of Punjab’s Chief Minister—or its Khadim-e-Aala (principal servant) according to his slogan—but he has also been wearing another hat on his head and shouldering the burden of Pakistan’s informal Deputy PM. Islamabad insiders are at one that Shahbaz’ input counts a great deal in most major decisions taken by Nawaz government. Shahbaz’ detractors add more spice to the argument  by remonstrating that nothing moves without his nod of approval; he’s virtually the king maker.

All of this would be tolerable—even though some may be unhappy in the extreme over this breach of the Constitution that doesn’t even mention the word ‘deputy PM ’ in its lexicon—if this family affair were delivering the goods and enhancing the government’s performance at home or abroad. But it isn’t, and that’s where the Sharif Brothers’ diarchy becomes a matter of contention.

What is pulling down the government on a very slippery slope—and accelerating its crash, according to doomsayers—is the diarchy of the cabinet Nawaz Sharif is presiding over.

Of course competence or merit doesn’t mean a thing. In fact, merit is a demerit in their lexicon. Instead, the only criterion kosher to them is sycophancy and cronyism. Loyalty is not a major requirement but the only qualification to enter the inner sanctum.

However, cabinet cronies aren’t a composite or uniform crowd. They are not like the denizens of an Israeli Kibbutz where fidelity to the kibbutz is sacrosanct and over-arching. The Sharif cronies are of two kinds: one from the circle around the senior Sharif, and another from the sanctum of the younger sibling. They have their loyalties divided—something typical and mundane to their feudal roots and instincts.

The divided loyalties of the cabinet colleagues is precisely the syndrome plaguing the performance of the Nawaz government—or lack of it—and breaching the ersatz façade of unity under his command. His cabinet minions have been squabbling and feuding like chickens marooned in a coop.

The unraveling of surface calm came into full public view recently when a king-pin of the Sharif cronies, Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, went into a Gandhi-like satyagrah, or passive resistance, to put a face on his unhappiness with his cabinet colleagues. For days on end, the Interior Minister was more conspicuous by his absence than presence, especially at a time when the National Assembly was debating the anti-terrorism legislation authored on his watch.

The trouble shooter for Nawaz on this occasion, too, was none else than his younger sibling. Shahbaz, according to sources from Pakistan, made more than a couple of sorties into Islamabad to placate the irate Chaudhry and soothe his hurt ego. In the end, the whiz kid from Lahore managed to breach the resistance of the unhappy Interior Minister and ferry him to Lahore for a face-to-face encounter with Nawaz.

The end of Chaudhry Nisar’s mini-revolt may be seen by his sympathizers and well-wishers as storm in a tea-cup which has blown over. Cronies of Shahbaz, on the other hand, may heap accolades on his suave dexterity that dissipated a serious crisis within the government at a very sensitive juncture when the army is engaged in a full-scale offensive against the terrorists in the tribal area.

But irrespective of what gloss or sheen is put on the Nisar saga by votaries and critics of Nawaz government it puts the finger at an inherent weakness of the crony-culture that has been so pronounced under the Sharif siblings. A ship with more than one captain at the helm is always a risky undertaking; those supposed to pilot it to safety wouldn’t know where to look for command and guidance.

Nisar may not have spilled the beans as such but his episode has left enough debris and detritus behind to point to a hard-to-hide fact that all isn’t quite hunky dory in the Sharif Brothers’ camp. They may be tethered to each other and thick as ever but those serving at their pleasure do certainly appear to be pulling and tugging in opposite directions from each other.

It doesn’t bode well for the democratic setup in the country for the people of Pakistan to discover that while the army is fighting a costly war within the realm for the defense of Pakistan, the so-called keepers of democracy are battling each other for the sake of their little turfs and fiefs. To a layman unaccustomed to appreciate the Byzantine nature of feudal politics in Pakistan, it smacks of an awful mess of dirty cronyism which the squabbling power barons of Islamabad are unable to keep under wraps.

One of the causes of Chaudhry Nisar’s unhappiness with his cabinet colleagues—and perhaps with PM Nawaz himself—is said to be differences over the handling of the fight against terrorism and the treason trial of General Musharraf. That puts the Interior Minister at odds—at one and the same time—with both the PM and the Army Chief, who is believed to be the catalyst behind the decision to use the full might of the state against the unrepentant terrorists.

Any PM with a clear head shouldn’t have bothered at all to mollify or placate a recalcitrant cabinet minister differing with him on issues as important and sensitive as the battle against militants and the trial of the biggest violator of the country’s constitution. But Nawaz couldn’t do any better than using his own sibling to coax and cajole Nisar to fall back in line behind him. This is the most convincing evidence—if any were still needed—of bankruptcy of perception and vision at the highest level of democratic setup in Pakistan.

This is not to suggest that all is well and orderly in the kingdom of the khakis. The recent alarm of conscience sounded by Retd. Major-General Athar Abbas, who used to be the mouth-piece of General Kayani as DG, ISPR, lends grist to suspicion that some ‘hidden hand’ is out to smear the army’s image with the common man at a time when it’s fighting the ‘battle of Pakistan.’ If nothing else, General Abbas’ pang of conscience  breaches an unwritten army decorum to not wash their dirty linen in public.

Diarchy in the civilian dispensation seems to be having its ripple down effect on the prized discipline of the armed forces. That, again, is no consolation to the layman already weighed down by rampant violence, fanaticism and terrorism in the country. Despondency and dwindling trust in the efficacy of the state cannot be far behind in the perception of a common Pakistani. And that, as any social scientist would tell you, is a prescription for anarchy in a society bereft of faith in its survival and longevity.

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All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan

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