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Shahbaz Sharif’s bargain with the Taliban – by Ayesha Siddiqa

Shahbaz Sharif appears to have his footprints all over the PML-N’s future. –File Photo

Shahbaz Sharif’s faux pas

Shahbaz Sharif’s comments asking the Taliban not to attack Punjab have caused a furore in many parts of the country. In imploring the Taliban to not attack the PML-N-ruled Punjab since both had a common enemy in Pervez Musharraf, the Punjab chief minister is being accused of pleading for peace for only his own province.

He is being attacked from all directions despite his later claim of having being wronged by journalists who quoted him out of context.

Notwithstanding the fact that this is a typical excuse used by most people in high positions, the Punjab governor and others might just forgive him considering that unintelligent statements could be a family trait. One is reminded of the 1980s, when jokes used to circulate in the country regarding the older Sharif brother’s fondness for food and his inability to concentrate on food for thought. In fact, Shahbaz Sharif had the reputation of being the brightest of the Sharif lot and was loved by many, including Gen Ziaul Haq. His recent statement, however, shows that he does not think before he speaks. While the older Sharif may have learnt a few lessons from having been in exile, the younger one looks ready to shoot from the hip.

But then, why get angry, given that all political figures tend to talk unthinkingly? Perhaps Shahbaz Sharif did not intend to make such a statement but was so dumbfounded by the recent terrorist attack in Lahore that he was simply unable to hide his surprise at the jihadis breaking their promise yet again. Wasn’t it just a fortnight ago that his police officials gave him the assurance that Punjab was safe from terrorist activities? A fly on the wall might have overheard him mumble his frustrated thoughts on what had propelled the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ) to deviate from the agreed-upon peace formula.

It’s not fashionable in Pakistan to talk about deals being brokered in Punjab, just like they were in the tribal areas. In our earnestness to accuse outside forces, we often forget that the main perpetrators of violence sit inside.

A number of people claim to see an Indian hand in the recent attacks in Lahore in the same manner as they suspected our neighbour of all earlier acts of violence. Let us assume for a minute that the Punjab government and the various intelligence agencies are able to prove that some outside agencies were involved in financing the attacks. Such an assumption still doesn’t answer the question of why the Punjab government is holding on to those terrorists who then engage in terrorist activities.

The case of Omar Saeed Sheikh planning a war between India and Pakistan, while in Hyderabad jail, after the Mumbai attack, allegedly organising the murder of Maj-Gen Faisal Alavi and even threatening Pervez Musharraf from his jail cell goes to show that such people cannot be controlled even if they are behind bars. Punjab has Malik Ishaq, who is the head of the LeJ and is currently incarcerated in Multan jail. And there are many others who traverse the length and breadth of the province, including some lethal proclaimed offenders, involved in various terrorist activities.

Anyone in the Punjab chief minister’s place may be equally shocked and disappointed to see the jihadis not delivering on their part of the bargain which was concluded over a year ago: not to attack Punjab in return for certain concessions. The agreement seemed to have gone awry even earlier when terrorist activities were carried out in and around Lahore, such as the attack on the Sri Lankan team. Sources claim that the LeJ leadership was probably involved in those cases.

Malik Ishaq of the LeJ is accused of carrying out hundreds of murders but was not convicted because of lacunas in the legal system and the police’s inability to collect evidence or run a sound witness protection programme. Resultantly, he is being kept in jail under the Maintenance of Public Order act; there is no other substantive case against him. Let us also not forget that there are many in the lower judiciary who are sympathetic towards the jihadi mindset. Not surprisingly, Malik Ishaq was apparently allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses inside jail even in cases not related to him. The police official who tried to stop this practice was later murdered.

Shahbaz Sharif is responsible for agreeing to keep silent on the jihadi ‘assets’. According to one source in the government, there was an understanding that he would take care of these elements, especially while the military was busy in the tribal areas. Therefore, the Punjab chief minister and his loyal law minister, Rana Sanaullah, deflected attention away from Punjab. There were even occasions when senior police officers covered up the jihadis’ tracks and maligned those that warned about such threats.

The younger Sharif brother was not keen to upset the apple cart he was trundling, since such a disturbance would have had a direct impact on the possibility of his riding the tide of the future of the PML-N. It is sad to see the elder Mian, who has learnt a few lessons from his exile, being gently sidetracked for the sake of political expediency. Shahbaz Sharif appears to have his footprints all over the PML-N’s future.

Then, there’s the fact that other politicians have also made deals with banned outfits to win seats in parliament. Hardly anyone in there or in any of the provincial assemblies has the capacity to challenge the growing tide of radicalism and jihadism in the country, especially in the two major provinces. For the leadership, it is convenient to blame ordinary people for being conservative, although the leadership has itself never tried to deliver any better message.

The problem with strategic assets, as Shahbaz Sharif may realise, is that they often bite the hand that feeds them since they can also feel insecure. Some ‘boys’ may interpret the arrest of Mullah Baradar and others as a strategy which may result in local networks being finally wiped out. The ‘boys’ who feel they are not getting the right signals are likely to jump the gun and turn into splinters of the splinters. It is up to the Punjab chief minister to face this reality before it’s too late.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

Source: Dawn

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  • Shahbaz sharif and his party is the only one province party, and their leaders have also mad a mind set that he will be always remain in Punjab and we have to get much more support from Punjab, so some talban mind sets are companion are working for nawaz sharif party.

    when they had started long march in last year, upper Punjab was present with them but some persons were behind lawyers, but all we have seen last month when issue was raised against appointment of judges by president, nawaz motives were to derail system but they know very well this time army have not in position to support them against ppp government and PM had consulted with chief Justice and prove that ppp have no greed of powers.

  • Two thumbs up for this article. Jameela hashmi has left us but after reading this article felt her presence among us again. Aaj ke dasht-e-soos main sach likhna angaroon pe chalana hai. May allah bless aisha siddiqa for her writings.

  • Ayesha s is the daughter of famous writer(jameela hashmi),ayeasha has full command on this subject ,seraiki belt(especially riyasat bahawalpur) and what she is writing is a very naked truth.Nawaz league is trying to flourish saudi arab brand islam in punjab(i.e banning basant festival). Please wake up ppl of pakistan and stop this brand in sufi land.

  • Nawaz Sharif’s faux pas —Babar Ayaz

    The perception in the smaller provinces is that the PML-N has backed out because the vested interest of the Punjabi establishment does not want to give provincial autonomy as promised in the draft 18th Amendment

    Speaking candidly in his book Between Dreams and Realities: Some Milestones in Pakistan’s History, former finance and foreign minister Sartaj Aziz had characterised his leader Nawaz Sharif in these words: “He is very impulsive by nature and therefore thrives on dramatic moves rather than well-considered decisions…He therefore ran the government on his terms through a system of personalised decision-making without adequate consultations or participation of cabinet colleagues…”

    This partly explains the u-turn taken by the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif on the 18th constitutional amendment last Thursday. A day earlier, his nominees on the constitutional reforms committee were happy that months of labour has been successful and now the amendments could be tabled on Friday, March 26, before parliament. First, Shahbaz Sharif’s faux pas in which he had appealed to the Taliban to spare Punjab and now backtracking by his elder brother from what had been agreed in the committee is going to hurt the party’s image. Perhaps all but Nawaz Sharif realise that.

    Soon after he finished his press conference, the media and politicians of other parties started lashing out at him for stalling the signing of the 18th Amendment draft at the eleventh hour. PML-N leaders have been wearing high moral values on their sleeves for the last two years. They were the ones most vocal about the abolition of the 17th Amendment. They were the ones who were blaming the PPP for not implementing the Charter of Democracy (CoD), which goes much beyond the 17th Amendment. But, in reality, what they wanted was just plain deletion of clauses in the constitution that were inserted by General Musharraf. Perhaps, most important to the PML-N was the deletion of the clause that bars a person from becoming prime minister for the third time.

    Having supported and invested in the movement for the restoration of the chief justice and other judges, Nawaz Sharif has no interest in implementing the clauses related to judicial appointments as agreed in the CoD. He believes he has a friendly judiciary now. His demand that prior consultation should be done with the chief justice is constitutionally untenable. It is strange that nobody in his party had told him this before he went to the media.

    The other unresolved issue he said was the renaming of the NWFP. He says that his party leaders from the Hazara area are not willing to accept Pakhtunkhwa as it does not reflect their identity. Pakhtunkhwa is the historical name of the area and has been used in the past by the rulers and poets of this area in the 19th and early 20th century. PML-N leaders from the same Hazara area had voted for this name when they were in the provincial government in alliance with the ANP in the 1990s. In any case, the ANP had shown flexibility by accepting Khyber as a prefix or a suffix. Sharif could have passed the new name with the majority in the party instead of sabotaging something in the national interest just because of a couple of dissenting colleagues from Hazara. If the Hazara people’s logic were accepted, then all the minorities in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab would start raising the demand to rename the provinces to acknowledge their identity. So Mian sahib, do you realise you have a self-defeating argument, as in your province the Saraiki belt is already demanding a separate province? They can also ask to rename Punjab, in order to hyphenate it with Saraiki.

    Since both the PML-N excuses are unreasonable, it seems that there is more to it than meets the eye. The perception in the smaller provinces is that the PML-N has backed out because the vested interest of the Punjabi establishment does not want to give provincial autonomy as promised in the draft 18th Amendment. Nawaz Sharif says that such issues should not have been clubbed with the deletion of the controversial clauses of the 17th Amendment. It shows that he has conveniently forgotten that provincial autonomy was promised in the CoD, the document he loves to refer to embarrass the PPP. As Mushtaq Minhas said the other day, the PPP alone does not have an exclusive copyright over making political blunders, the PML-N has this right too.

    Then what is or are the unsaid reasons? The guessing game in Karachi’s business circles is that perhaps he was pulled back by his jurist friends, who do not want a parliamentary committee for the judges’ appointment.

    Another lobby, which includes some diplomats, believes that the impasse would be over in a few days, as the government is working on the draft that might make the position of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) more powerful so that General Kayani retains the actual powers when he is promoted. In the past, this non-effective post has been treated in the forces as ceremonial. This fits into the Americans’ plans also, as the US has developed good working relations with General Kayani and for the first time are talking positively about Pakistan’s contribution in the ‘war against terror.’ And it would also not disrupt the promotion process within the army since no extensions would be needed. “Wait till the general comes back and the proposed draft in this regard is approved, then all stumbling blocks in the way of the 18th Amendment would be removed,” a well-informed source maintained confidently.

    Does that mean that the constitutional goodies will only get through if the khakis are also compensated as a quid pro quo for the abolition of the National Security Council (NSC)? And poor Nawaz Sharif has to play delaying antics till the new division of power between the CJCSC and COAS is approved. That is an intra-department tussle, so people have no problem with this move. Let us hope all this is sorted out before Wednesday’s meeting of Raza Rabbani’s committee. Hope is the only balm for the wretched people of Pakistan!

    The writer can be reached at\03\30\story_30-3-2010_pg3_5

  • was Shabaz Sharif the first politician who allegedly negotiated with Taliban in return for peace. What about ANP led Pukhtoon khwa and those sitting at Islamabad who were the first to struck an open deal with Swat Taliban.