Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A New Nawaz Sharif

VIEW: Meeting Nawaz Sharif — Kamran Shafi
The News, August 9, 2007

I am staying with Henry at his beloved Gail’s, just down the road. The weather is magnificent, and yesterday we had a delicious beef roast done by Henry, the vegetables by Gail. It was divine sitting outside in the brilliant weather

I have written much about the Sharifs, specially M/s. Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, more than much of it in unflattering terms. Well, I met Nawaz Sharif and Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, and for a short while at the end of my visit Shahbaz Sharif, in London last week. Let me immediately say how pleasurable the experience was. Begum Kulsoom and Nawaz Sharif were courteous to a fault; and solicitous and unfailingly polite. He was personable and well-spoken and aware of all that was going on in Pakistan.

I must say straightaway that Nawaz Sharif had a sense of humour; had the ability to take criticism; and seemed a completely different person to the one we saw in power. If, that is, the version that came out at us through TV (during his own government, on PTV) and the press, was even half-true. He was determined in his opposition to the military being in power, and unbending and firm in his resolve not to even speak to the dictator. He said, of course, that he could not understand what “Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto” would achieve by joining up with Musharraf. I said he was not alone!

But more than anything else he seemed such a nice man (yes, I know, ‘weak word’), smiling often, and completely at ease in the company of someone who had lampooned him (and his family) so much for so many years. (Made me sorry and ashamed, and I said so when Shahbaz Sharif arrived too, that I was so personal about them.) For example, when I asked him not to call me ‘Kamran Shafi Sahib’ and a short while later called him ‘Nawaz Sharif Sahib’ he said ‘Tussi mainoon kaindeh o keh main tanoon Saab naan kavaan, teh mainoon Saab keh rahe ho’! I was most pleasantly surprised, and more so when he insisted in coming down and seeing me off at the door.

As I said he seemed a much changed person, and one who is insistent on seeing to it that the Army is sent to its barracks (and its training grounds and playing fields, and, yes, its bakeries and tikka joints — words in parenthesis entirely mine) good and proper, once and for all, so that no other adventurer General ever dares to take over the country again. I wish him well in his endeavours.

However, while she has already said so, I call upon Ms Bhutto to put more pressure on the military junta to unreservedly allow him and his family to return to the country, and to fight the elections like anyone else, by threatening to walk out of any deal with the Commando if the PMLN is not allowed as even a playing field as anyone else. Enough of this nonsensical game that the Commando is playing.

But will she? Will she, even now and despite the unholy alliance coming together between the People’s Party and the sorry junta, do the right thing and redeem herself and her party somewhat? Or will she let principled politics slip out of her hands completely by making a solo deal with the junta, at the expense of the other political players? Let me add here that I do not agree with Ms Bhutto when she says, and is parroted a few days later by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, that if there is no deal with the Commando he might well impose Martial Law/Emergency. Let him try, I say! Let him even try!!

So then, Mian Ijaz ul Hassan, loyal piplia, political activist, painter extraordinary, and above everything else great and good gentleman with qualities of head and heart and intellect, is not to be given a People’s Party ticket to fight the elections for a national assembly seat from Lahore. From a constituency in which he has worked for six and more years? From where he was almost elected before the ‘angels’ came and did their thing? Well done, Ms Bhutto, well done. A couple more coups like this one and the party will really come into its own and prove the point that it now has no mind of its own, that it will go where the winds of opportunism take it. Wherever.

Who’s surprised? And yes, while friend Irfan had always said that whenever there was a chance of the PPP forming the government Mian Sahib would be nowhere near it let me immediately add that while the prescience was his I had always agreed with him ... what does a man like Mian Sahib have to do with the likes of the lotas and the lotees who are Ms Bhutto’s new champions anyway?

If any sense still adheres (how expressive is this word!) to the People’s Party, let me ask it, as an old friend, to give Mian Sahib a berth in the Senate. He will be invaluable ... the man is a gem, and deserves to be treated as one.

I write this from the Thatch, my great and good friend Henry Shepherd-Cross’s cottage in Compton Bassett, Wiltshire, where Henry still maintains an office. I am staying with Henry at his beloved Gail’s, just down the road. The weather is magnificent, and yesterday we had a delicious beef roast done by Henry, the vegetables by Gail. It was divine sitting outside in the brilliant weather. Later we took a walk up on the hill behind the house and while I know this area well, the scenes towards the Downs were absolutely stunning. Yes, the Almighty took special care when He made England and Wales and Scotland.

As He did when he made Spain too — I do remember that I have yet to write about that lovely country, and about Sweden, all of which we visited during our holiday. Soon, insha’allah.

In the end, a little about my fellow countrymen that I saw everywhere we went — destitute, living on handouts, hanging about, standing out like sore thumbs — in the UK, in Spain, in Sweden — everywhere treated with kindness and solicitude. Yet, most of them twisted in their thinking and feelings about the host populations. When will they learn? Oh when? And what are they doing in places that they don’t like?

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