Nawaz Sharif has always said that, as a democrat, he doesn’t believe in the “politics of revenge”. Yet his government seems bent upon demolishing whatever little opposition remains in the country. Certainly, many PPP big shots, including Ms Bhutto’s husband Asif Zardari, have become fair game for Senator Saif ur Rahman’s Ehtesab Cell. Indeed, Mr Rahman’s cold-blooded efficiency is evident every week on PTV when someone or the other is taken to the cleaners and stretched out to dry before the public. Is there a flip side to the coin?
Benazir Bhutto was decidedly “soft” on Mr Sharif before the elections, her wrath being reserved exclusively for President Farooq Leghari. After she contested and lost, she wished Mr Sharif a full second term in office, adding that she was not interested in seeking a third term for herself. She then went on to extend full support to Mr Sharif when he sought a repeal of the 8th amendment. Has relentless persecution at the hands of the Sharif regime provoked her to suddenly change tack? Or has she been prompted by some other, more ominous, considerations?
Last week, Ms Bhutto astounded everyone by demanding a national government inclusive of the army and intelligence agencies. A few days ago, she lashed out at the Sharifs by revealing that Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif have large financial interests in three companies abroad. Ms Bhutto is now seeking the disqualification of both the Sharifs as members of parliament for concealing their assets from the Election Commission.
Mr Sharif has, of course, denied the charges. But how does that change the ground realities? Ms Bhutto did the same when Surreygate was unearthed by Mr Sharif. Nor does it follow that because no proof has been, or will be, forthcoming for either set of allegations, they are equally hollow. Ms Bhutto has also challenged the accountability law which appears to condone Mr Sharif’s corruption before 1990 while ensuring that she is convicted for hers since 1993.
In the meanwhile, the Supreme Court is quietly perusing a case in which it is alleged that the ISI, acting under orders from General Aslam Beg, dished out large sums of money received from banker Yunus Habib to a number of IJI wallahs, including Mr Sharif, in 1990 in order to ensure that Ms Bhutto would not be returned to power. Has anyone worked out the legal and political consequences in the event a verdict of guilty is returned by the Supreme Court? Where is all this business of the pot and the kettle calling each other black taking us?
Now there is speculation that President Farooq Leghari could be on Mr Sharif’s hit list. It is whispered in the corridors of power that Senator Rehman has extracted certain confessions from “Mehrangate” bankers Yunus Habib and Hameed Asghar Kidwai with the objective of pressurising Mr Leghari to resign or, if that doesn’t work, impeaching him. What is going on? What possible purpose could Mr Sharif hope to serve by getting rid of Mr Leghari?
To begin with, Mr Sharif owes a debt of gratitude to President Leghari for ousting Ms Bhutto, resisting pressure to postpone the elections and bending over backwards to ensure Mr Sharif’s participation in the polls. Then, as Mr Sharif has admitted, Mr Leghari was “most gracious” in supporting the exit of the 8th amendment unreservedly. Finally, it must be acknowledged that, far from rocking the boat, the President has never shied away from lending a helping hand to Mr Sharif whenever the prime minister has so desired — as, for example, in personally negotiating loans of US$ 200 million and US$ 300 million from China and the UAE respectively to bail out the government from its financial difficulties. If, despite all this, Mr Sharif still sees some purpose in removing a benefactor who is left with largely ceremonial powers, we are justified in wondering what that purpose might conceivably be. Could it, perhaps, be some sort of a deep rooted suspicion or fear of the remaining members of the old “troika”? Having cleverly manipulated Ms Bhutto’s marginalisation, could Mr Leghari’s removal be part of a larger objective in that direction? Whatever the truth, conspiracy theorists are doing roaring business again. Rumours are rife that Punjab Governor Shahid Hamid, who played a major role in paving the way for Mr Sharif’s return to power during his tenure as “de facto prime minister” in the caretaker regime, may be shunted to an ambassadorial post in the near future.
We hope, of course, that this is no more than rumour-mongering of the worst kind. The last thing that we want is yet another bout of political uncertainty. Everyone is banking upon Mr Sharif to govern this country well and steer it to prosperity and stability. Issues like terrorism in Karachi and militant sectarianism in Punjab, in particular, cry out for urgent repair. The prime minister must therefore not be misguided into political victimisation or adventurism. The costs of persisting with either or both tracks could turn out to be prohibitively high.