Nawaz Sharif’s Misaq-e-Pakistan – by Imtiaz Alam

Mian Nawaz Sharif has been baffling both his fans and critics with his conduct as an opposition leader, which is quite untypical of a popular Pakistani leader aspiring to be at the top again.

While acquiring such a political maturity, democratic resilience and farsightedness, Mr Sharif has perhaps learnt more lessons from his formatives years of ‘submission’, adversarial and confrontationist phase that made him a leader in his own right, tribulations at the hands of yet another military dictator and co-authoring of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) with Ms Benazir Bhutto in exile.

Given the current state of the nation and the slippery nature of the politics of coalitions, Mr Sharif has emerged as a leader who looks beyond the immediate (his ‘Misaq-e-Pakistan’), and holds to a principled high moral ground above petty squabbling of our mundane politics. What is this metamorphosis all about?

The change in the conduct and transformation of Mr Nawaz Sharif into a mature democratic leader could be defined by his seven major decisions and initiatives that were not in sync with the confrontationist Nawaz Sharif that we knew in the decade of the 1990s. One, Mr Sharif took the road of participating in the elections on an uncertain soil of transition under his worst adversary, General Musharraf, instead of boycotting them as decided by the so-called All Parties’ Conference (APC) in London. He was much criticised by his London APC allies and other sceptics, but he took the plunge in an election he was least prepared for. Had he followed the bad advice, he would have still been in the wilderness with, perhaps, General Musharraf still sitting in the Presidency.

Two, despite great resistance from the rejectionist sections of his party, he asked his PML-N to join the coalition at the Centre providing a great boost to the efforts to dislodge General Musharraf and restore Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. He lent a helping hand to Mr Asif Ali Zardari in booting out General Musharraf. Three, Mr Sharif broke with President Zardari when the latter reneged on his promise to restore CJP Justice Chaudhry. Consistently holding to his election promise to restore the judiciary, Mr Sharif for once took the road of defiance to Islamabad in order to get Justice Chaudhry and some of his colleagues restored. He won the applause of all those who thought that with their restoration the judiciary will truly become independent, besides building his good offices with the judiciary.

Four, despite all the hullabaloo of change of government by means other than constitutional and democratic norms, Mr Sharif refused to provide a helping hand to the powers that be or aspiring conspirators to dislodge a democratically elected government. This avoidance of his brought him under severe ridicule of being a ‘friendly opposition’. Restraining his own hawks, he kept his cool and in fact helped bury all conspiracy theories being hatched against the continuation of the democratic setup. Five, although he has the broadest appeal among the conservative sections of the population in Punjab, he did not join forces with the extremist religious right and kept them at bay. He, rather, pleaded a more comprehensive strategy to tackle the menace of terrorism — even though the Punjab government seemed wavering in its commitment to fight them out.

Six, had it not been for the consistent stand of Mr Sharif against the 17th Amendment, the 18th Amendment could have never been passed with a consensus, which also conceded much autonomy to the federating units, besides giving the new name of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the former NWFP that cost him a lot in the Hazara division. Seven, knowing the impediments of the power structure in the way of democratic evolution, critical nature of the war on terrorism and enormity of the crises of state, economy and governance, Mr Sharif is now inviting our attention to create a broader national consensus on major structural and policy issues among the major stakeholders to bail the nation out of its current and future predicaments. It is not traditionally the job of a parliamentary opposition to propose such a national agenda; still he has proposed it. The initiative must come from the sitting government in collaboration with the PML-N and other democratic parties.

Mr Sharif has not so far elaborated his “Misaq-e-Pakistan”, nor does he express any monopoly over it. Why is he proposing such a national accord among the major stakeholders in the first place? And who are these stakeholders? What this writer has been able to gather from his on and off the record talks on the issue is that there are well considered concerns and propositions behind this latest recipe of Mr Sharif. At the outset I must say that there are no expedient or opportunist motives involved in this statesmanlike proposal. There are some serious concerns underlying this proposal. In Mr Sharif’s view, Pakistan is still not giving attention to the basic maladies it has created for itself under the tutelage of an all-powerful establishment.

He thinks that: a) the power structure is not in consonance with the spirit of the constitution, despite the restoration of democracy, and civil-military relations have to be redefined, as envisaged by the CoD; b) the will of the people and sovereignty of the state has to be exercised by the representatives elected by the people; c) the current crisis is not the crisis of governance alone, it is of the state that needs to be overhauled; d) despite keeping the government in the dock on charges of alleged corruption, he wants wide reforms in the civil, military, judicial and governmental structures and mechanisms of governance to ensure good governance; e) he does not think that the current foreign and security policies are being defined by the elected government and wants their reappraisal in a realistic manner and to be handled by the elected government with of course professional input by the security apparatus, and for that he wants to bring them on board; f) he wants to make everybody agree on the direction of economic growth and a development strategy that takes care of all problems in the long run; g) worried about the future of the country, and its unity, he feels such an enormous job cannot be performed by anyone, including himself, but with the whole nation contributing its part.

Well, all good things and they must get the broadest possible consent, if not a total national consensus, which is impossible. What he, however, misses out on is that there is a great ideological polarisation on the nature, character and direction of the state. How would this be bridged? You can set certain policy directions, propose a whole package of reforms in governance, calibrate priorities, evolve a macro-economic and development paradigm, even reappraise the foreign and security policies, etc. But how can you change civil-military relations in favour of civilian hegemony and historically evolved geo-strategic paradigms without bringing basic changes in the relationship of civilian and military forces and the institutional mindsets and intellectual breeding of our soldiers. Nor can you tackle the menace of terrorism and idiosyncrasies of extremism without changing the ideological direction of the state and our most reactionary education system.

Mr Sharif has dared to raise these issues and we must welcome a national debate and a process of consensus building through democratic means from all available forums. A similar exercise was conducted by some journalists and intellectuals who had issued a joint resolution in the name of Citizens for Democracy for the continuation of the democratic and constitutional order and they had called upon all major political parties and stakeholders to sit together to evolve a national agenda on (a) Terrorism; (b) Economy (macro-economic policy, state corporations, taxation, non-development expenditure, energy, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood- and terrorism-affected); (c) Foreign Policy; (d) National Security and Neighbours; (e) Transparent and Accountable Governance and Across the Board Accountability, and f) Balochistan. The South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) in its national conference on November 6-7 is also taking up this agenda. Why does not the whole civil society take it up and the major stakeholders sit together to start some serious deliberations to tackle these enormously serious issues that are crucial to the future of the republic.

The writer is Editor of South Asian Journal. He can be reached at