November 9 was a red-letter day for Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Keeping to his schedule announced months earlier, he inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor, linking India with a revered Gurdwara—the final resting place of Baba Guru Nanak—through an exquisitely built four-km land passage for Sikh yatris. The pilgrims needed no visa to navigate the corridor.
Gracing the ceremony and lending his personal gravitas to it was former Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh and, of course, Imran’s former cricket buddy-turned-politician, Navjot Sidhu, who has acquired the status of a matinee star and showbiz personality for the Pakistani news media. To be fair to Sidhu’s star-billing, it was in his presence last year in August in Islamabad at Imran’s swearing-in that the latter unveiled his plan for the hassle-free corridor.
Redeeming his pledge to have the corridor built on time has been a sort of mission for Imran—part of his mantra to seek a thaw in relations with India that has marked his stint as Pakistan’s leader. So his enthusiasm for the corridor remained unfazed by the Modi government’s annulment of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
Further, Pakistanis believed it couldn’t entirely be a coincidence that the much-anticipated apex court verdict on the Ayodhya issue was handed down the same day Imran was celebrating the fulfilment of his pledge to follow through on his initiative of peace with India. But this still did not dampen Imran’s spirits. Never mind that the BJP government seems more committed to promoting its Hindutva agenda than responding to Imran’s peace offensive.
However, hardly had the cheering and applause died down on his mission accomplished that Imran found himself scrambling for a safe passage out of a rough weather patch. It wasn’t the Indian government but the antics of one of his political nemeses on the domestic front that confronted Imran with hard choices he would, otherwise, have preferred to put on hold for another day.
Along with desperately vying for amity and accord with India, Imran, from his day one in office, has his heart set on sweeping Pakistan’s decks clean of its endemic political corruption. Pakistan’s two most notorious leaders, former president Asif Ali Zardari and three-time PM Nawaz Sharif, personified the politics of loot and plunder that Imran had pledged to eradicate from the country’s political landscape.
Imran has been successful, to a degree, in his anti-corruption crusade, with both Zardari and Nawaz consigned to jail. Zardari has not yet been convicted but Nawaz is serving a seven-year sentence for massive bungling and fraud. Imran had good reason to pat himself on the back that he was winning one battle after another in his war on corruption.
However, what he hadn’t factored in his reading of the situation map was an element exclusive and typical to Pakistani politicians. None—no pundit, no wizard—has yet been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation why these tainted politicos become seriously ill and afflicted with myriad medical conditions as soon as they are sent behind bars.
Nawaz’s litany of serious ailments has dominated the news for some time. Earlier, he was given a three-month reprieve in his jail term by the Islamabad High Court so he could get treated by medicos of his choice. A team of medical experts headed by his personal physician set up an ICU facility at his sprawling estate outside Lahore to provide him 24/7 medical care. Imran pledged to pose no hurdles. But the VVIP medical care didn’t improve his condition. His doctors cried it was getting very critical. They advised he be flown out to London—his favourite jaunt—for expert medical treatment.
Imran’s government said it would let him out of the country if he posted a personal bond of Rupees seven billion and pledged to come back. Nawaz dithered. But now an obliging Lahore High Court, notorious for being a family-friendly court of the Sharifs, has bailed him out of that predicament. No bond, said the court, except a personal guarantee by his younger brother—ex-Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz—that Nawaz will return home after four weeks, if he recuperates. Shahbaz himself is implicated in several cases of corruption.
Nawaz’s partisans are hailing this denouement as a smack in Imran’s face and a victory for their leader. Will Nawaz return home is the question on every pundit’s lips. Imran’s partisans, red-faced, are saying he will not. But they are taking comfort that the party is over for him.
Is it really curtains for Nawaz, ask independent observers. For the moment, it looks like a huge embarrassment for Imran. He must gulp this obvious humiliation with a brave face, say
Imran also hasn’t been faring well on the domestic front for sometime. His woes are compounding because of a haemorrhaging economy. He should be more concerned with the travails of the common man than fulminate against his corrupt rivals. His back is getting exposed and his standing with the people in steep decline. Hard to say for whom the party is threatening to be over!
Karamatullah K Ghori
Former Pakistani diplomat