Short Url

With his direct criticism of the security establishment during the opposition’s multi-party conference or APC as it's colloquially called, Nawaz Sharif rocked the ocean liner, and the splash is falling every which way. The splash doesn’t come without debris — old and new — the mast of the charter of democracy, that coat from Memo gate, the gavel from a Senate election, a turban from Balochistan, perhaps even deals sealed in a bottle and tossed overboard at midnight.
After all, it takes a storm for the ocean to yield its secrets. At the center is Nawaz Sharif, taking what appears to be his last stand.
Bilawal Bhutto and the PPP may have propelled and hosted the sixth APC, but it is Nawaz Sharif with his speech and renewed politicking, and his party, that is facing the inevitable political backlash. The reasons are obvious — no one else in the publicly broadcast portion of the conference named names or struck at the foundational matrix of the current hybrid government. His diagnosis? It goes beyond a state within a state, as former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani once said, but a “state above a state.”
The PTI’s response was ordinary bluster: Playing down the significance of the APC, about the opposition trying to save itself from corruption cases, and speaking the language of the Indian media. But it wasn’t enough, an extraordinary comeback was clearly needed.
This came in a series of calculated leaks intended to cast the PMLN as paper revolutionaries, and the opposition parties as hypocrites seeking both power and relief from the very military establishment accused of subverting democracy. (The tagline to the first round of responses: Democrats much?) The PTI sat out this round of leak volleyball, and it makes sense: Let the big boys have it out, cheer from the sidelines and avoid the stray shots.
Thus, the leaks were led by railways minister Sheikh Rasheed, self-proclaimed spokesperson of the military establishment, through journalists, and rather more directly, the spokesperson of the armed forces, DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar. These are all above the PTI’s pay grade.

The PTI’s response was ordinary bluster: Playing down the significance of the APC, about the opposition trying to save itself from corruption cases, and speaking the language of the Indian media. But it wasn’t enough, an extraordinary comeback was clearly needed.

Amber Rahim Shamsi

The PPP has remained relatively unscathed because it didn’t appear blindsided by the leaks. Khawaja Asif confessed to calling the army chief when the election results were delayed extraordinarily on 25th July, he said he was assured that everything would be fine; the former defense minister won his seat by a whisker the next day. Former governor Sindh Mohammad Zubair, close to Maryam Nawaz, admitted to meeting the army chief twice “in a personal capacity” but could not satisfactorily explain whether these meetings were with the consent or in the knowledge of Maryam and her father. Here is how PPP’s senior leader Sherry Rehman responded, however, as media responses were sought from the parliamentary leaders who attended the meeting with the army chief and ISI chief on the forthcoming Gilgit-Baltistan elections, “Where is the prime minister?”
In response to the same question put to him by anchors, Sheikh Rasheed dithered: “Maybe the army didn’t invite him,” or “People can’t talk openly in front of the prime minister.” What has been laid bare is that while the prime minister is great at antagonistic politics, he is unable to play consensus-building politics for key legislation or national issues, so the army picks up the slack in what is clearly civilian domain.
Nawaz Sharif can take credit for bringing the lay of the land onto our media screens. But even if the party held together despite predictions to the contrary, its credentials as the leading opposition party has also suffered in the last two years because of its internal contradictions, and the absence of key leaders from active politics and parliament. Going forward it is hard to tell if Shahbaz Sharif taking the ideological backseat or Maryam Nawaz’s return as the crowd-puller will pay off. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif too had to do damage control, tweeting that no party member would hold secret meetings with officers of the military or agencies without the prior permission of the party leadership.
In this round, the PMLN certainly lost the battle of political narratives, which may be less than ideal but certainly not illegal in politics. However, the security establishment’s political involvement has also become far more clear, equally damaging, since Nawaz Sharif has forced them to play the game on a field of his choosing.
Given the opposition’s track record over the last few years, it is hard to see it succeeding in toppling the current government. Too much has been invested. History tells us street agitations don’t alone work unless there are multiple external and internal factors.
However, where the opposition will succeed is if it is able help roll back some of the lost freedoms listed in the resolution. Yes, a document that has been forgotten in the political back and forth, which lists what damage the current government has made. Ultimately, the opposition will truly succeed if the country is to move past a reckoning of the past — violations of the Charter of Democracy, Memo gate, the fall of the Balochistan government, because, been there done that — to that elusive and frank reckoning of the present. The ocean needs to yield its secrets.

- Amber Rahim Shamsi is an award-winning multimedia journalist who hosts the Newswise news and current affairs show on Dawn News. She has worked with the BBC World Service as a bilingual reporter, presenter and producer. Twitter: @AmberRShamsi

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view