They welcomed back Pakistanis in ‘Purana Pakistan’ with a big smile, but it also meant sarkari workers losing their sleep and a day off at work. Six-day-work weeks, 8 am show up time — the party was over. Do they miss ‘Naya Pakistan’ already? Hope not.
New Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif earned the reputation of being a doer, a man of action, someone whose actions spoke louder than words during his stints as the chief minister of Punjab, or khadim-e-ala (chief servant), and not wazir-e-ala, as he liked to be called then. Now it is ‘Khadim-e-Pakistan’, or servant of Pakistan.
Dipped in the same humility was Sharif’s first address in the National Assembly after taking the seat as the leader of the house — from talking about bridging the gap between those divided on party lines to those being declared traitors over mere disagreements and the need for reconciliation. “In the last four years, our society was poisoned, and it will take years to clean this poisoned water. This will only be possible if we stay united,” the new PM said.
Among the many wooing statements that he made were, “No one was a traitor before, and no one is a traitor now” and “Punjab is the elder brother but not the whole of Pakistan.” There was also the standout gesture of reverting the name of the Benazir Income Support Program, which began in 2008 under the Pakistan Peoples Party government and was continued by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in 2013. But since pettiness was the hallmark of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government, the same cash transfer program was run under a different name.
In all this, Pakistanis still couldn’t believe that a prime minister can give an entire speech without telling them about himself and his greatness. His 26-year-old struggle, how he knows the West better than the rest, how, when he was 18, he landed somewhere outside Pakistan, which will now change the course of our history or even chemistry — none of that was mentioned. The lecture on world history, ‘Islamiyat’ and civics all-in-one were missing. Pinch us, will you, this PM wanted to talk about atta (flour) and not tell us ‘I am here to make you a nation, not worry about aloo and tamatar prices’. Purana Pakistan it is.
Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif visited Peshawar Mor Metro bus station at 7:00 am to review the on-ground progress. The project initiated by PML-N in 2017 was planned to be completed in 2018 but delays occurred. The PM has ordered an inquiry into the delays. pic.twitter.com/UcVy162tf1
— PML(N) (@pmln_org) April 14, 2022
As new PM, expect no less
What was ‘Shehbaz Speed’ in his CM days is now ‘Pakistan Speed’. Showing up for work at 7 am, expecting his good samaritans to come in at 8 am, is reminiscent of Sharif’s days as chief minister. Even as a full-term CM, he was working on an emergency basis like the ‘Aik din ka CM’ (one-day CM), played by actor Anil Kapoor in Nayak (2001). Now as PM, expect no less. The successful development ventures, road infrastructure improvement initiatives, and the metro bus projects won him accolades. He already turned ‘Lahore into Paris’, and it was time for ‘Karachi to become New York’ back in 2018. That free laptop scheme for students as an incentive for good grades will now make a comeback at the centre, and so will the memes.
Like a conventional politician, Sharif’s love for theatrics is not lost on anyone. He can emotionally throw mics during speeches — a signature Zulfikar Ali Bhutto move that many have tried to imitate — to add the flair of a ‘politician in action’. If he wants to recite an English poem, then he will, he won’t wait for a mic. It is not an ‘all-work-and-no-entertainment’ scenario, so don’t miss Naya Pakistan much. Sharif is a singer who uses his talent to bring out his inner Bhagat Singh while hitting out at political opponents. And many times, he uses the same talent to woo his supporters. Let’s not forget the rains of Lahore and Sharif reaching the scene with his boots on, standing knee-deep in the water. With boots came his signature khaki safari suits, which continued in his CM field days, and now, it looks like they are back in the PM office too.
Junior vs senior Sharif
Much is different between the politics of the two brothers, Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif. It is not just a ‘good cop bad cop’ display in the public. If the former is hard on the military’s role in politics, it is the latter who pushed for a more non-confrontational approach with the khakis. It is something that he has described as Islamabad and Rawalpindi working together in a balance. Even back in 1999, before the military coup, General Pervez Musharraf had offered Shehbaz the prime ministerial chair if he broke away from Nawaz.
That acceptance from Rawalpindi for junior Sharif’s rather non-provocative attitude continued, as the senior Sharif had another falling out, which ended up in his departure for the third time as Prime Minister in 2017. During the last three and a half years of the hybrid regime, Shehbaz, as Opposition Leader, remained aggressive towards Imran Khan, while Nawaz picked fights with the Army Chief in public addresses.
While the rebellion support base lauded Nawaz for his political narrative of naming and shaming those who selected the Prime Minister, the same lot wasn’t much excited about Shehbaz and considered his politics too meek. ‘Chachoo (paternal uncle) is living in his own world,’ they would argue. But not many are complaining today. Shehbaz becoming the Prime Minister does give him a chance at trying out that civil-military coexistence. We’ll know soon if such a thing exists or if it is a myth.
Naila Inayat is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)