m-n-s-2

 

 Sharif’s money and social standing just seems to have more clout than the glamorous Khan’s promises of a welfare state.

Well, the elections are over but the dust is going to take a long time to settle. In fact, it seems that much of the dust has made its way into my mouth and I have that taste of eating dirt that I just can’t seem to wash away. At the outset, I still congratulate Pakistan People’s Party for hanging on to the reins for a full five years while knowing they were going to be dragged out of power. But what has the electorate done? Here we are with a third term for a person who has a criminal record. So I found myself wanting to do a recap.

Along comes a man, charismatic, handsome, world-renowned for his prowess on the sports field and for his single-handed humanitarian efforts in providing healthcare to the needy. He appeared to speak for everyone in a manner that brought the young and old, the glitterati and the peasants, the locals and the ex-pats out alike. In fact, it seemed that he was able to shake hands and appease all factions to the east and the west with his charm, rhetoric and sincerity.  People were delirious in their support of his candidacy. I really believed that his vision and the seeming waves of adulation might be strong enough to see him through to an electoral win.  Honestly, I am stunned at the magnitude of Imran Khan’s loss.

At the same time, I am equally baffled at the winner. How did that family do it? What have I missed about the attraction of the Sharifs? Nawaz Sharif is a man whose life was saved, and if all accounts are to be believed, his personal wealth significantly buttressed by his close allies in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps Pakistan never was an independent country after all. The influence of the Saudis in Pakistan has been an undercurrent ever since the days of Zia-ul-Haq, and perhaps even earlier. Certainly, it is no secret that Zia procured copious funding from King Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia to support and finance all sorts of Pakistani edifices. At the same time, it was Zia who hand-crafted and propelled Nawaz Sharif to his position of power. There seems to be a certain tenacious symmetry about the Saudi money forming the foundation for Pakistan’s premiere religious center as well as the supporting columns for the political edifice that is to be Nawaz Sharif’s third rise to power.

It must be said, that the taste for power, once sampled, is an immediate addiction that must be hard to break. Nawaz Sharif is a man who is famously intransigent. His record reflects that he is comfortable being at out and out war with the army in Pakistan and he does not appear to be flexible enough to bend to the will an independent judiciary. With his resounding victory this past weekend, I cannot see that humility and a willingness to forgive is likely to be anywhere on the horizon for his mindset. Indeed, if you will excuse my mixed metaphors, a tiger doesn’t change its spots that quickly. Regardless of the reports that he has mellowed with age, I’m not buying it. Even before the results were finally totalled  he had appointed a Finance Minister and had extended invitations to India to attend his inauguration/oath-taking ceremony. While I believe that a focus on the Pakistani economy and a normalization of relations with India are crucial to the economic survival of Pakistan – many have recognized the pivotal importance of a free-trade agreement in that economic bloc – I cannot for one minute believe that these overtures rest well with the army.

In reading about Mr. Sharif’s audience with foreign journalists on Monday, I noted that each of the reports I read pointed out the lavish palatial environment of the Sharif family home. At first I couldn’t fathom how the people of Pakistan can reconcile the image of his existence with their own existence which is meager by comparison.

It seems that Pakistanis like the idea of their politicians coming from fancy lavish lifestyles because that is the image they would like to present of themselves to the outside world? I do not believe that is the case. If it were who could have presented a more glamorous image than a former play-boy cricketer who rubbed shoulders with the Who’s-Who of European nobility, be it royal or economic nobility? It is more complicated. Sharif’s money and social standing just seems to have more clout than the glamorous Khan’s promises of a welfare state. And so, the Pakistani electorate have spoken and shown their loyalty to a candidate they will coronate as their King despite his seeming ambivalence to their daily plight.

The media played a huge role in publicizing the campaign rallies of these two candidates. It also was notable how the ruling party was absent from the electioneering. This does bring up an interesting point about the electorate. It needs to be fed with its daily dose of political promises and the media serves that vital role. An impartial media is crucial to a free democratic state. If there is one thing that Pakistan does seem to have down pat, it is the attention, albeit at times screeching attention, this media pays to politics. There is little chance that the faults of an administration will remain hidden and uncommented upon. The trouble seems to be that even if those faults are recognized, there seems to be a disconnect on the accountability front.