Shahbaz Sharif’s Taliban entreaties — by Zafar Hilaly

We can be sure that when the Taliban do not respond positively to his entreaties, Mr Sharif will not blame the Taliban, or fate, but Musharraf, the PPP, the MQM, the Americans, the Indians, the British, the Nigerians, the Somalis, in fact everybody but the Taliban

At the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Yasser Arafat was asked what advice he had for Bill Clinton. “Bill Clinton,” he said, “should remember that goats don’t talk.” Mr Shahbaz Sharif should perhaps also remember that silence can, on occasions, be full of potential wisdom, because one unguarded impulse can reveal more of a man than a hundred speeches. His brief utterance in Lahore earlier this week, beseeching the Taliban to spare Punjab because essentially they were on the same side, said more about him than a hundred speeches could convey.

We know the Sharifs well, beginning with Abbaji and how he made his pile before losing it, getting it back and then converting it into a fortune, of course, entirely as a result of his remarkable business acumen. We know too the Sharifs’ love for Punjab, particularly Lahore, where they are presently ensconced in a veritable palace surrounded by a thousand splendid acres of land. We also know that in their innumerable terms in office, at the Centre and in Punjab, they did their best to develop their beloved Lahore, sometimes at the cost of the rest of the province and always at the cost of the rest of the country.

Following on their cri de coeur of ‘Jaag Punjabi Jaag’, we know also how they founded several institutions such as The Bank of Punjab, Punjab this and Punjab that. In fact, most institutions that have ‘Punjab’ as a prefix, or for that matter a suffix, owe their provenance to their initiative. And soon Punjab will also have its very own custom designed local government system, thanks again to the Sharifs.

Those of us who live in Sindh never actually get to see the Sharifs because the beat of the Sharif brothers normally extends from Lahore to Murree or, at best, within Punjab and abroad, to London, Dubai, Jeddah and Riyadh. Jeddah is for them an obligatory stop, in response to the call of a generous God who has bestowed on them so much largesse, even though Nawaz Sharif omits it from his Assets Declaration Form. And Riyadh is where creatures of the Sharifs’ earthly god, the Saudis, go when summoned. As for the other provinces, for the Sharif brothers they may as well be located in a different world, nay another planet.

Hence, it was not surprising that earlier this week when Mr Shahbaz Sharif demanded of the Taliban that they cease their barbarous and murderous antics, he did so only for the sake of Punjab. That was predictable because, for the Sharifs, Pakistan is a pseudonym for Punjab. And, predictably, as the popularity of the Sharif brothers has grown in Punjab, correspondingly it has declined outside Punjab.

Some felt that it was presumptuous for Shahbaz Sharif to harbour the hope the Taliban will cease terrorising Punjab in response to his entreaties. Not so. Like the Taliban, the Sharifs are fundos though, for the sake of political expediency, of the closet variety. And like the Taliban they also suffer from dyspepsia, a disease which the patient and his friends frequently mistake for deep religious conviction and concern for the salvation of mankind. Hence, there is always the hope for Shahbaz Sharif that the Taliban may oblige.

However, we can be sure that when the Taliban do not respond positively to his entreaties, Mr Sharif will not blame the Taliban, or fate, but Musharraf, the PPP, the MQM, the Americans, the Indians, the British, the Nigerians, the Somalis, in fact everybody but the Taliban. For the Sharifs, it is Musharraf who is the fount of all evil and, next to the devil, responsible for all our woes. An elaborate mausoleum has been designed in their minds for their enemies with Musharraf heading the list. The only problem is that if they continue indulging their fixation with Musharraf, they might end up finding their own bones interred in it.

At the function he addressed, Mr Sharif posed the question why the Taliban, if they fought with the PML-N against military dictatorship and the US and for democracy, are terrorising Punjab. Two thoughts occur immediately. Lolling about in a Saudi palace does not amount to ‘fighting’ for democracy. And if it is dictatorship that they were ‘fighting’, then what else is the Taliban rule but the most vicious form of dictatorship. The antediluvian, geriatric Sufi Mohammed of Swat told us, via the national hook-up in 2008, precisely what the Taliban thought of democracy. Besides, the Taliban repartee is full of violence, the language of the functional illiterate, which clearly the Sharifs are not, even if they cannot muster up more than a sentence or two on files.

Whatever happened to the Sharifs in the few weeks that they spent in jail under Musharraf was surely far less than what they inflicted on Salmaan Taseer when they had him in their clutches. And to the latter’s credit, one rarely, if ever, heard him bellyaching about the torture inflicted on him in the several months of solitary confinement that he underwent at their hands and those of their mentor Ziaul Haq. Nor did we see or hear Taseer urging Benazir or Musharraf to have the Sharifs tried for treason.

In the view of a former Punjab psychiatrist-turned-civil servant, the fixation of the Sharifs with Musharraf is actually the neurotic affliction that most ‘hands-on’ type of administrators, like Shahbaz, develop for their foes when overwrought or overworked. This affliction has many manifestations including loss of memory and denial, sudden temper tantrums including a desire to banish from view and office those who have the temerity to argue or resist. Clearly, Shahbaz Sharif needs a break for treatment.

But what Pakistan needs is not merely a break from the Sharifs. We need a break from all muddleheaded fools with occasional lucid moments leading us. We need neither a Napoleon, nor a Moses, nor desiccated calculating machines like those imported from Washington in the past. We are not a fussy people. We can make do with just about anyone who is reasonably honest and somewhat competent. Is that asking for too much?

The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times



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