Editorial: Did PML-N make a mistake with its unambiguous support for the services chiefs’ tenure bills?

PML-N’s choice

Updated – January 14, 2020

THE PML-N appears to have taken a strategic decision to abandon the path of confrontation with the establishment and opt for the reconciliation route.

There has been no formal announcement in this regard, but actions, and indeed silence, speak louder than words.

The fuzzy remarks of PML-N parliamentarians and the studious silence of the top party leadership were both commandeered in the service of the party’s vote in favour of the bill on the extension of the services chiefs.

The open and unambiguous support for the bill took everyone — including the party rank and file — by surprise. Since then, the leadership has faced a deluge of criticism from its supporters and derision from its opponents.

Did the party miscalculate and make a mistake?

This may not necessarily be the case. For instance, a report in this paper, based on conversations with some PML-N leaders, says the strategic shift is a well-considered policy aimed at mending fences with the establishment in order to chart a path back to power.

The leadership has reportedly told party colleagues that the shift from resistance to reconciliation will reap rich political dividends for the PML-N and not result in much damage in the long run.

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible, and the PML-N may have thought that the long-term benefits of abandoning its resistance mode would far outweigh the short-term damage to its credibility.

This may be so, but it would be safer to say that Nawaz Sharif’s attempt to mount an ideologically driven challenge to the establishment and reshape the ethos of his party has been all but abandoned. It will be difficult to unfurl the banner of resistance once again if things do not work out for the party as envisioned.

The charitable view is that the Sharifs are hardened political players and know the fabric of the system better than most of their opponents. Therefore, away from the rough and tumble of the Pakistani landscape, they have delved deep into the causes of their troubles, weighed options and scenarios and concluded that salvation lies in the path of least resistance.

There could be various reasons for this logic. Perhaps the party is not cut out for defiance and is unable to sustain a prolonged confrontation; perhaps the timing of its erstwhile defiance was not right; or perhaps the leadership is unable to deliver on its slogan that demands ‘respect for the vote’.

In all cases, Shahbaz Sharif’s long-held view seems to have prevailed, and he is the man holding the steering wheel. The PML-N has made its choice. Every choice has consequences that carry risks and rewards.

The party leadership should now introduce an element of transparency in its strategic shift and explain to the voters how this change of tack is not for personal or family reasons but for a larger cause.


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