Well, knock us over with a feather and tickle us all over — Raheel Sharif is going to do what? And for whom? And why, exactly?
Once the appointment fandango dies down and the hysterical conspiracy theories dissipate, we’ll probably be left with a whole bunch of ordinary.
An ordinary decision for ordinary reasons by an ordinary man, who until recently was cheered by many as extraordinary.
But we may all end up saying thank you one last time to the chief because he may have done us a favour.
Pakistan has a foreign problem. It’s been creeping up on us for a while, but Nawaz Sharif and Raheel have now helped make it public.
It’s not about personal relations with foreign governments — those are as old as the republic. And it’s not about enriching yourself through a shady deal or two — those are older than the republic.
But between Nawaz’s Qatari prince and now Raheel’s Saudi benefactor, we’re seeing something that we shouldn’t:
Doing business here — where state and individual are distinct, or at least should be — along lines that the Arabs do business there, where the line between state and individuals is deliberately blurred or non-existent.
Rewind to last March. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was in Pakistan and, after the Iran-US nuclear deal and lifting of some Western sanctions, there was hope that maybe Pakistan too would seek an opening. There was even wild, woolly talk of finally getting the Iran-Pakistan pipeline moving.
But then something spectacular happened. The ISPR put out a couple of sentences effectively claiming that Raheel had rebuked Rouhani for allowing India to use Iranian territory to destabilise Balochistan.
Instantly, the air was sucked out of the trip. Rouhani didn’t even wait to get back to Tehran to react, rejecting the ISPR claim while still in Islamabad.
It was hard to see the point to Raheel’s undiplomatic diplomacy back then and the best anyone has been able to come up with since is that it was an example of why diplomacy should be left to the diplomats.
Until this week, that is. There’s zero reason to believe Raheel was motivated by anything other than the profound need to urgently share with the Iranian President his concern over Indian meddling in the region.
But that matters a little less now because there’s the obvious conspiracy theory: Raheel’s diplomatic faux pas — a mistake compounded by having the ISPR make it public — was designed to push the Iranians away to please the Saudis. It matters not how utterly untrue that may be. What matters now is that a perception has been created.
Likely, the Raheel move won’t further complicate ties with Iran — we have kept Iran at an arm’s length anyway and Iran hasn’t exactly been convinced that a great breakthrough is imminent. But why are we even in this place to begin with?
Turn to Nawaz. It’s not his fault that he was sent into exile and forced to spread the family business empire abroad.
But it’s not our fault that he chose to get into business with seemingly every damn royal family he and his family have ever had the luck of being in touch with.
Plus, exile was more than 15 years ago and Nawaz’s return to Pakistan is almost a decade old. In today’s world, in today’s Pakistan, Nawaz is eyeing a decade-long continuous stretch in power. Fifteen in Punjab. The game has changed and the rules must too.
Nawaz, Prime Minister or not, will always be an honoured guest in several Arab states. Sheikhs and potentates will have offers aplenty for the Sharif business empire. What they, the foreigners, do, they will do; what we, Pakistanis, can accept is for us to decide.
Rewind to April 2015. Pakistan said no to sending troops to Yemen and a potentially tragic foreign quagmire was avoided.
But why was it such a close matter to begin with? Because Nawaz was in power and because the Saudis had given him a home in exile?
Or because Nawaz was in power and Nawaz had been given a billion and a half dollars no questions asked a year earlier to shore up his government/the economy?
Seemingly every year now brings a fresh case of conflict of interest between a Pakistani high official and an Arab state.
Slowing that down is possible. In the Raheel variation, the counter measure would be relatively straightforward: a ban on serving a foreign power for at least two years after leaving office, and preferably longer.
If after that, employment is still sought, the need for governmental and perhaps even parliamentary approval can be mandated.
In the Nawaz variation, the counter-measure would be significantly more complicated — but political pressure is a wonderful thing.
Maybe it’s impossible to create a water-tight rule — presumably Arab rulers and determined family empire-builders know how to run circles around any law — but the existence of a rule would create its own jeopardy.
No more business with foreign rulers — and off with your (political) head if you’re caught in this age of leaks.
If change does happen, we should thank Nawaz and Raheel — it usually takes an exploitative sort to compel change.
And if change doesn’t come, Nawaz and Raheel should thank us — for letting them get away with it.
By arrangement with Dawn...