By Agha Iqrar Haroon
Three-time former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif when landed back from London to Lahore, declared the policy of restraint, forgiveness, and moving forward while forgetting the past. However, he started his speech at the Minar-e-Pakistan public meeting with a question of why he was thrown out of power in 2017.
His like-minded political observers promoted the idea that Mian Sahib believes in reconciliation and forgiveness. However, reporters like me who have been covering Mian Nawaz Sharif since the IJI formation—in 1988 era, understand that Mian Nawaz Sharif is too deep to be understood instantly. I still remember how did Mian Nawaz Sharif got rid of the late Muhammad Khan Junejo and formed PML-Nawaz because he could not work under anybody. His love-and-hate relationship with the Pakistani establishment is long enough to know that he believes in “Absolute Power” and “Outright Control”, resulting in his debacles with Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar and Gen General Jehangir Karamat. He was comfortable with Gen Musharraf but later had bigger global designs therefore Mian Nawaz Sharif rightfully asked “Why I was thrown from power in 1993 and 1999?” His relations with Gen Raheel Sharif and Gen Bajwa should not be looked through PM-COAS glasses because by that time “Project Imran” was inevitable and more important than any military-civil government relationship.
Raised by Gen Ziaul Haq and pampered by Mirza Aslam Baig, Mian Nawaz Sharif had always been a difficult option and tricky choice for the military establishment. He was needed to mitigate the popularity of Benazir Bhutto but after the 2002 general elections, it was clear that someone else would be needed to mitigate the popularity of Mian Nawaz Sharif as well as Benazir Bhutto.
Engineer of a failed project of IJI, Lt General (retd) Hameed Gull took over the charge of grooming Imran Khan but later ditched Hameed Gull and decided to his solo flight. However, this choice thereafter had always been in classified files.
An independent cursory look over the situation since 2002 indicates that Imran Khan is the only personality who has been in constant contact with the rank and files of the military establishment while the late Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, and Mian Nawaz Sharif had been in contact only at the top of the establishment whenever they were needed while Imran Khan had deep engross as lower as the ranks of majors. Such relations were also one of the factors seen in the May 9, 2023 mutiny.
By 2011, he was raised as the only pure, pious, smart, good-looking, and charismatic personality among families of Pakistan’s armed forces through thousands of social media platforms including WhatsApp groups. Another factor was the foreign connections of Imran Khan being the father of two sons of the House of Goldsmith. Mian Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto had no such connections in global circles that Imran Khan had and it was seen that over 45 percent of Imran Khan’s first cabinet had dual nationals including the Governor and Deputy Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan. Even his Advisor of National Security was a resident of the United States. Therefore, Imran Khan knew that the Pakistani establishment could not behave with him as it did with Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif because he is a household name of garrisons while having deep-rooted connections with global powers. However, all went wrong and his original face was exposed to those who bided on the wrong horse. Neither Mian Nawaz Sharif nor Benazir Bhutto had been so poisonous for Pakistan and against the Pakistani establishment as Imran Khan had proven. Both were sent home thrice and twice but they did not cross the line of decency and never shared state secrets they had in their hearts of being former prime ministers. However, Imran Khan just coming out of power shared almost everything he had shared with his COAS Gen Bajwa and in return later also discussed many things through journalists of his choice just after his retirement forgetting the clause of being silent for the next two years after his retirement. This reckless behavior of both the opponents surely damaged the reputation of the country as well as of the prime institution –the Army and Imran Khan kept building his narrative against the Pakistan Army presuming his strong connections within the Army and abroad would protect him from the wrath of the institution.
Taking full advantage of the situation, Mian Nawaz Sharif by putting his narrative of “why I was thrown out of power” on the back burner, offered himself as an obedient mature man who promised to move ahead while forgetting the past. He never used his slogan “vote Ko Izzat do” (respect votes of Pakistanis) since his party led the PDM government. However, it was perceivable that the PDM government having all the resources of the state machinery was avoiding targeting the anti-state and anti-military narrative of Imran Khan. Recently, the former federal minister of PMLN Daniyal Aziz criticized the PDM government saying that it failed to break or target the narrative of Imran Khan that is surely against Pakistan Army and indirectly against the country. Here an important question arises. Did the PMLN-led government fail to target Khan’s anti-Army narrative or did it deliberately avoid contesting this narrative?
It was observed that the PDM government allowed Imran Khan to freely abuse the Pakistan Army and all mainstream media was never asked to censor fire branded speeches of Imran Khan against the Pakistan Army. This situation continued till the May 9 mutiny day which was the ultimate result of allowing an individual to fan so much hate against military institutions. After May 9, victims of the events took the situation into their own hands and Imran Khan’s spreading hate was controlled to some extent. Did targeting of Imran Khan to Pakistan’s military suit PMLN because it had back in mind that it would use the same narrative once elections came closer?
By giving tickets to electables who were previously known as turncoats in Pakistan politics, Mian Nawaz Sharif has planned a safe passage to power and there might not have need to use anti-Army rhetoric and the PMLN election campaign might avoid using slogans such as “vote Ko Izzat do” and Mujhe kaue Nikalaa? (why I was thrown out of power) but PMLN had options readily available with it. Bilawal Bhutto who was part of the PDM government is standing confused about what is going on around him. Perceivably he does not want to use the rhetoric of anti-Army but keeps demanding a “level playing field” and trying to attract the mob while emphasizing that Mian Nawaz Sharif had a bitter past of working with the military establishment and soon he would again fix his horns and the country would face the music.
To my understanding, PMLN would avoid fixing horns with anybody if it manages to attract masses during election rallies and public meetings but will remain open to using the option of attacking the establishment and Mian Nawaz Sharif is asking questions Mujhe kuen Nikalaa to keep alive relatability of past with present.
Nobody knows what the election campaign of PMLN and PPP would bring to public meetings. Both parties should understand that targeting establishments (past or present) would certainly not favor them but an anti-military stance will consolidate PTI’s hate-mongering against state institutions. Moreover, hate-mongering against state institutions would serve only those who don’t want Pakistan to come out of the social dilemmas and economic meltdown it is facing today.
The last four months have brought exceptionally positive news about Pakistan’s economy under the leadership of the interim government and guidance of COAS Asim Munir and it indicates that Pakistan needs nothing but harmony among civil and military institutions and a high level of respect for each other.
The only solution for achieving a rising Pakistan is to bury the hateful narrative introduced by PTI and to move forward with the law of acceptance, harmony, and tolerance —they are prerequisites of a new administrative contract that Pakistan desperately needs today.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News