Call me old-fashioned but I do not believe in attacking a foe who is under the weather. And I avoid analysing a situation where a political leader is ill or has endured a personal tragedy. You do not want to come out as an immature and insensitive know-it-all. The only message that needs to go out is the one of solidarity, of compassion, of empathy. And indeed that is exactly what I did when Pervez Musharraf was attacked and when Imran Khan fell and injured himself. Even during Mr Khan’s recent divorce, I was aggressively arguing against discussing private matters. And when Benazir Bhutto was attacked and then killed I lost all composure. It is not about strategy. Only good old decency.
And that is precisely how I behaved when Nawaz Sharif, the country’s premier, went through a heart surgery. It is my belief that given the complicated living standards in Pakistan, our lifestyles and our dietary habits anyone can fall ill any time. You need to have a balance of goodwill when your time comes. But if that is what you are to do, you need to know how to master your emotions. If for instance you want to show compassion to someone you deride, you will obviously have to control revulsion. But this simple fact of life is lost on some of the best and the brightest. Many displayed terrible bedside manners during the premier’s treatment abroad. Let’s see how. At first it was claimed that the prime minister was in the UK to meet and plot with Asif Ali Zardari. It was a conspiracy against the country. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Office kept shouting at the top of its voice that it was a visit meant for medical treatment. But when it became clear that the man would have to go through a heart surgery critics changed tack. What a shame it was that the country’s premier had to seek medical treatment abroad. He has been in power for decades. Why didn’t he build state-of-the-art facilities at home, we were asked. Wait what? Ruled this country for decades? Last I checked the man was never allowed to complete his terms in office. His previous term in office was cut short by a coup after which he was sent into exile for almost a decade. During that exile he tried to return to the country but was deported from the airport. Nobody but his own party protested back then. And pray where was he advised to go for treatment? London. Where is he right now? London.
When you have spent considerable time in the care of a particular team of doctors, is it impossible to think that he would feel comfortable being treated by the same set of experts? Hey you sent him there. But the story doesn’t end here. As Nawaz Sharif was being admitted to the clinic, former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry came out to address the media and told us how the prime minister’s surgery endangered the country. Something about a nuclear button that the civilians are supposed to push, at least in his mind, in the event of a nuclear war. Awesome. Was this man for real? In a shocking moment of comprehension, watching the former CJ’s interview, that was quickly pulled ostensibly to avoid further embarrassment, it dawned on me that he knew almost as much about the law of the land as he did about our civil-military realities and our mundane history. His press talk was a godsend for the prime minister’s detractors. Now they were complaining about the country drifting out of control. Was the prime minister even capable of ruling this country? Without a prime minister the country must go to dogs. And that’s what happened. In a matter of few days there is chaos on the streets, no food or water, no electricity and arson and looting has burnt the country down. Right? Wrong! Then someone had an epiphany. This strategy was not working either. After remaining in denial about a sympathy wave for the prime minister, these geniuses decided that the best way to attack him was to plunge headlong into denial. Surgery? What surgery? This obviously was a ruse by the prime minister to deflect criticism (yeah like that is ever going to happen).
I must say that I like the man and not for the reasons you would think. Since he returned from exile, I don’t recall him using any abusive language personally. And with the detractors like the ones listed above, who needs a publicist? So get well soon Mr Prime Minister and get back as soon as possible.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2016.