Is Nawaz here or there?

  • Rauf Klasra
  • Oct 25, 2023

Finally, after four years of self-exile, Nawaz Sharif has returned to Pakistan from London and addressed a large public gathering in Lahore. He has proved political pundits’ predictions wrong on two to three counts. Firstly, he proved wrong those who were swearing that despite his announcement, he wouldn’t return to Pakistan. Secondly, he proved wrong those analysts who believed that Nawaz Sharif wouldn’t backtrack from his much-touted mantra of accountability of General (retd) Faiz Hameed and General (retd) Qamar Bajwa. He also proved wrong another group of analysts who wondered whether Nawaz Sharif would fill the vast ground of Minar-e-Pakistan with his supporters and even come close to break the record of public rallies of Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan that were held at the same location previously?

In the eyes of PML-N’s supporters, their leader’s dignity has been well-looked-after, and now they can face his detractors or the general public, saying, “See, you would say that in the face of Imran Khan’s popularity, he could not pull the crowd but he did it.”

Nawaz Sharif has a peculiar political style. He is known for striking deals to go abroad and then returning to Pakistan. In 2017, he returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile and now he is back after just four years of self-exile. During General Musharraf’s era, he faced different kind of allegations, and this time around, they are different, but the duration of his sentence(s) and his political disqualification is almost identical.

During my stay in London from 2006 to 2007, I regularly met Nawaz Sharif. Late Arshad Sharif, my mentor and senior journalist late Ziauddin sahib accompanied me as we frequented his office on Oxford Street in pursuit of news.

There’s a stark contrast in the personalities of Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif. Shehbaz Sharif presents himself as a tough administrator or a no-nonsense type, appearing as a serious leader. He does not like crowds, and remains surrounded by only a few officers very close to him. When he shakes hands, he is hardly friendly and welcoming, offering only two to three fingers (during hand-shaking).

I recall the words of the late politician Abdul Sattar Lalika, who used to say that when Shehbaz Sharif shakes a hand with someone, it appears as if he is doing a favour to the other person. In contrast, Nawaz Sharif will greet you with warmth and a smile. You will feel a sense of familiarity with him. This is why many people find Nawaz Sharif’s disposition pleasant. He also enjoys hosting gatherings with close friends where casual Lahori conversations, laughter, and jokes flow freely. He presents himself as a regular person in all of this crowd. However, Shehbaz Sharif does nothing to appear normal or similar to others. Nawaz Sharif has a habit of asking everyone what they should do. He will listen attentively, even if it’s a pretense, but it’s clear that he does what he believes is right and according to his own thinking. However, he will respect others as if he is paying full attention to what you are saying. In fact, you will feel that at that moment, nothing else is more important to him than you.

I remember meeting him in Duke Street when I went to London for reporting in September/October 2006. He met me in a very cordial manner. I had met him for the first time in 2005 in Jeddah. He began inquiring about what was happening in Pakistan. When the conversation started, Shehbaz Sharif was also present there. I began offering my political analysis, and he listened intently. In the midst of our discussion, when Shehbaz Sharif interjected, Nawaz snubbed him saying “I listen to you every day,” let me listen to him as he has just arrived from Pakistan with fresh news. Over this, Shehbaz Sharif stood up and left.

When Nawaz Sharif is in the opposition, he acts differently, but when he becomes the prime minister, he changes completely. I met him again in 2013 after a gap of four years. He was noticeably different. The discussions he had had in London while in opposition were completely missing now. In London, he used to share umpteenth proposals to put the country back on track and fix Pakistan’s tattering economy. I would think that he would have only five hours for himself to rest if he became prime minister again and the rest of the time would be all work. But when he became the prime minister, he went on a whirlwind tour of the world much like Ibn Battuta.

He handed over the reign of the government to his close confidant, Ishaq Dar, while himself venturing on more than 120 international trips during his government. He spent about 400 days outside Pakistan during his own government. Of these foreign tours, he visited London 22 times, which means he was missing from Pakistan for almost a year. He avoided the Parliament for eight months and stayed away from the Senate for a whole year. He rarely held cabinet meetings. He might have called cabinet meetings if he were in Pakistan for most of days. He recalls civilian supremacy and sovereignty of Parliament when he is in London or in Adial jail. The resulted in a weak Parliament and a feeble government. Ishaq Dar ran the economy by taking huge loans, keeping motorways and operating airports as up-front money. He imported costly coal plants from China, and behind those deals were the “Sharif men” – with Chinese being in front and Sharifs behind.

Many people wonder what will happen now. Will Nawaz Sharif become the prime minister, or will something unexpected occur, like a sorcerer pulling a phoenix from his hat and placing it on someone else’s head?

Although Nawaz Sharif has been in politics for over forty years, he rarely rests, especially when he’s in the opposition and power has slipped from his grasp. During such times, he appears more astute and more determined than ever to assert his supremacy in the country. It’s as if the fervor to change Pakistan’s destiny consumes him. At such moments, it becomes evident just how concerned he is about Pakistan’s progress, as he believes only he can lead the country to development. Yet, when he ascends to the position of prime minister, he appears to set aside these lofty ideals, embarking on global journeys with his travel bag in tow, accompanied by his son, Hussain Nawaz. During these periods, Hussain Nawaz focuses on building his business contacts, while Nawaz Sharif delves into the world of international travel, putting the nation on his least priority list.

Anchor and friend Muneeb Farooq, who recently met Nawaz Sharif in London, also said that he continues to harbor the idea of holding General Bajwa and General Faiz accountable. Whether we interpret this as a sign of Nawaz Sharif’s tenacity or a potential flaw, one thing is clear: his stance on accountability of former generals remains unchanged, whether he’s in Adiala jail or in Attock Fort. He might maintain silence until he achieves his goal of becoming prime minister again.

Klasra White

Rauf Klasra

The author is a senior Pakistani journalist and anchor. He posts on X as @KlasraRauf

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