Much ado about nothing?
Our politicians are a cut above when it comes to creating a hullaballoo out of what may turn out to be nothing. Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia, facilitated by a special plane sent by the Kingdom, followed by Nawaz Sharif and Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique has set off a veritable storm of accusations that the Sharifs were seeking an NRO-type bailout from their present troubles with the help of Saudi Arabia. Foremost in the charge of the light brigade behind this latest controversy is the inimitable Imran Khan, for whom logic and consistency are the least of his concerns. He is followed closely by former president Asif Zardari and our perpetual sitter-in in chief, Tahirul Qadri, not to mention Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah of the PPP. These worthies have proclaimed from high and low that the ‘suspicious’ gathering of the three PML-N leaders in Saudi Arabia is the prelude to some back channel accommodation with the establishment, with the army and judiciary at its heart. Khursheed Shah has outdone them all by proclaiming in stentorian terms the humiliation of a nuclear power inviting foreign interference in its internal affairs (as though this is the first time such an accusation has surfaced in our sorry history in this matter). In turn, PML-N ministers have as usual not been able to resist the temptation (which has reached a crescendo of late) of responding to and denying all that the opposition hurls at the ruling party. Thus the ‘defence’ chorus comprises some of the cast of usual suspects in Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and the indefatigable Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. They all speak with virtually one voice and say more or less the same thing: visits by the Sharif brothers to Saudi Arabia should be viewed in the light of religious obligations (the ubiquitous Umra) and the long standing close relations with the Saudi royal family, whose ‘guests’ the Sharifs were for eight years during their exile in the Musharraf era. Now the government’s loyalist ministers could still be forgiven for considering it their duty to respond to any and all diatribes by the opposition, although how much of the country’s time is wasted in frivolous controversies should be a question in their minds. But the really amazing fact is that Imran Khan, Asif Zardari and virtually the opposition entire has been untiring in their constant complaints that Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N government have been guilty since the Panama case verdict that disqualified former premier Nawaz Sharif of maligning and attacking the judiciary and army. What they perhaps lost sight of or did not consider in their eagerness to weigh into what they thought was another opportunity or stick to beat the government with were the implications of their speculations about a new NRO-type ‘deal’. Logically this would imply a two-way street or interaction between the alleged seekers and dolers out of such a deal. Does that not constitute compromising the dignity and independence of the judiciary and respect of the armed forces if they are indeed engaged in any such ‘back door diplomacy’ with Saudi Arabian help, facilitation or pressure to let the Sharifs off the hook? Imran Khan has been berating the Supreme Court for not using its contempt powers against the utterings of Nawaz Sharif and functionaries of the PML-N government, yet he skates perilously close by implication of being held in contempt himself.
No one of the leading lights of the accusatory opposition, Imran Khan, Asif Zardari, Khursheed Shah, et al have bothered to explain to a weary public who is making an NRO for the Sharifs, with whom and why. To jump from the fact of the Sharifs reaching out to and interacting with their dear and close friends in Saudi Arabia to the purely speculative conclusion that this signals an NRO-in-the-making requires a suspension of logical belief and taking on trust far too much. Yes, the Sharifs, and in particular Nawaz, have been receiving the advice from within their ranks and outside to avoid confrontation with the establishment (the latest reportedly being National Security Adviser Nasir Janjua to Nawaz Sharif). Whether the advice has been listened to or acted upon is a moot point. But to take a flight of fancy into some unreal virtual world of intrigue and back channel efforts for an NRO for the Sharifs strains credulity and beggars belief.