Who thought Nawaz Sharif would turn out to be a bigger liberal than Imran Khan?

Published: March 19, 2016

Photo: AFP

Is this really Nawaz Sharif?

The religious-right choked on their tea when Nawaz Sharif shared his vision of a more ‘liberal’ Pakistan during a speech to the international business community in late 2015.

Some thought he misspoke. Others felt he was pandering.

When hours later, in response to the anger, the Pakistani prime minister clarified his statement, it seemed like Nawaz was caving in.

But, no.

Over the course of his leadership, it has become clear that rather than deep frying, Nawaz Sharif believes in slow roasting a chicken. In this hyperventilating country, perhaps this is what Pakistan needs.

Case in point: When Imran Khan ran a circus after being controlled like a pawn that was convinced it was on a path to become the queen, Nawaz did not respond in kind. The reasons could have been many, but it was Sharif who came out on top, while the rest of the country was left questioning Khan’s competence, intelligence, sanity, wisdom, and more.

Yes, the PML-N simply held their collective breaths, while PTI self-destructed like a boy trying to get inside a candy shop by running headfirst into the wall.

It is hard to believe that under Nawaz, a man previously attached to the religious right like a conjoined twin, Pakistan has moved against child marriages, unblocked YouTube, put forth a historic bill to protect women, finally melted a snowball that, as evident from its funeral, had rolled into a snow hill, and brought the threat of terrorism to its knees.

But wait, Nawaz isn’t done yet.

In context of this country’s extremist history, remarkably, the Pakistani government has agreed to adopt Holi, Diwali, and Easter, as holidays.

No, some don’t believe it is really Nawaz.

Photo: Twitter

Adding to the mystery is a report that this particular woman was spotted entering the PM house a year ago:

Photo: IMDB

Unfortunately, our conservative right won’t sit while Mystique err… Nawaz Sharif stands for a progressive, tolerant, and just Pakistan.

In an ultimatum, the religious parties have warned the government to withdraw the Women Protection Bill by March 27, or face dire consequences.

According to Dawn, a joint declaration said,

“All official announcements about a liberal, secular Pakistan and against Islamic injunctions are a revolt against the constitution and betrayal of the founding fathers of the country…The religious leadership stands united to safeguard Namoos-i-Risalat and the Muslim family system and they will foil conspiracies to make Pakistan a secular, liberal state.”

What exactly do the religious parties find so liberal about affording protection to our most abused citizens?

More importantly, it is depressing to note that our religious parties are only compelled into action in times like this.

Why don’t they protest against child marriages?

Why don’t they protest against forced conversations?

Why don’t they protest against domestic violence?

Why don’t they protest against honor killings?

Why don’t they protest against rapes, and gang rapes?

Why don’t they protest against acid attacks?

Why haven’t they protested against extremism?

Isn’t it the least bit suspicious that when the cookies are missing from the cookie jar, the only person visibly angry about a new lock is the lazy housemate who sits quietly otherwise?

It gets even more depressing when you consider how spineless our leaders are. Take for example Imran Khan, who rather than join hands with the Pakistan government, claimed that adoption of a domestic violence bill in KPK hinged on the CII, which is an advisory council with a frighteningly deep pattern of misogyny.

There are certain issues that our various political parties need to stand united against, in spite of their animosities. Certainly, problems that affect Pakistan on a national scale should be tackled with a unified stance. The rights of women to stand as equals, unhindered and unmolested is one these pressing matters.

But it isn’t surprising that Imran Khan is all talk and no game. Consider that the political party to call for a protest against the government on March 27 is PTI’s playmate, Jamaat-i-Islami.

Ultimately, Mystique err… Nawaz Sharif will do what he does best when cornered: compromise. But decades ago, when Nawaz Sharif was rubbing shoulders with the clerics while Imran Khan was the icon for Pakistani liberals, could anyone have predicted that one day Nawaz Sharif would be the bigger feminist?

Who would’ve thunk it?

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sheraz Khalid

    I think he is just an opportunist and Liberals like you must not get deception. Imran Khan whatever flaws in him is not at all a conservative and neither he is corrupt. Nawaz Shareef is just using Liberals like he used conservatives in 80s. Liberals watch out!Recommend

  • Some Guy With An Opinion

    Surprising, this may be the beginning of Pakistan’s golden age, replacing Turkey as the most secular Islamic majority country. India Pak relations might also develop and Kashmir might be solved at last.Recommend

  • Parvez

    – The Diwali etc holidays is simply a resolution moved by the Hindu PML-N parliamentarian for holidays for only minorities ( that already exists ) ….its playing to the gallery and nothing more.
    – On the Woman’s Protection Bill, the Mullah lot are playing politics because they avoid to discuss the actual wording in the Bill when confronted and resort to claiming that this ideology is IMPORTED from the ‘ west ‘ …. a premise that sounds ridiculous.
    – On Nawaz’s liberal leaning I think a closer look at at the state of our economy which is sustained through borrowings from the ‘ west ‘ who see these moves made by him as positive, is needed.
    – On Imran Khan both you and I made the same initial mistake and now share the same view……..but I am still observing him because politics is a long term game.Recommend

  • Nael

    It’s amazing how basic human decency is deemed ‘liberal’ in PakistanRecommend

  • Raj – USA

    In my recent comment elsewhere in ET, I wrote exactly the same about Nawaz Sharif. I wrote: Nawaz Sharif is a good man. He was not so earlier, but today he is a good man.

    You have also taken up the issue of forced conversions on many occasions. I have been writing for over 5 years on this. A lot more is involved in these forced conversions than just forcing a hindu girl to convert to islam. By forced conversions, it is generally understood that it involves kidnap, rape, conversion and marriage of a non-muslim girl (almost always a hindu girl, mostly minors) to a muslim. In actuality it is a lot more. Conversions that are conditions of a marriage are also forced conversions. In all such cases in Pakistan, the muslim man and his family prohibit and prevent the converted girl from having any relations with her hindu family. Can you see how much these conversions keep muslims apart and far away from others? But again, it is the muslims who are doing it. When the children of the muslim man and is converted wife grow up, they do not see the difference between their mother and the girls Boko Haram abducts. Nor, do they see any difference between their father and his family and the Boko Haram men. They themselves grow up to become Boko Haram men. When the muslim man met the hindu girl, liked her and loved her, he liked her because of what she was and who she was. She was not a muslim them and had her hindu family. Then he forces the girl to change everything that he liked in her and also forbid her from keeping any connections with her hindu family who made her what she is?????????? Conversions for marriage are bad for both the man and his wife. Yes, if after few years of marriage, the girl likes to become a muslim, no harm in that provided she is not asked to severe her relations with her hindu parents and family. And on all these conversions, who are to be blamed? Surely, it is not the mullas. I also wonder at times if religious parties and mullas influence the society or is it the other way around? Also, when Islam allows marriage of a muslim man to a woman from Ahle Kitab, why the Oxford educated man had to force a Jewish by birth and converted to Christian girl, to convert again and become a muslim, though he himself was then indulging in everything that is prohibited in islam, such as, indulging in alcohol and drug parties, having sexual relationship outside marriage. Later in his life, he fathered an illegitimate daughter but refused to take responsibility? Is faith something that you just proclaim by reading two lines of a verse or that you really possess in the depths of your heart? Can you take away something that is in the depths of your hearts?Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Nawaz is trying to capture Imran’s market share of the freethinkers living in pakistan, while at the same time, keeping his commitment well intact with the religious nuts.

    For now the establishment is not creating any problems for nawaz sharif for his anti-jihad stance, especially considering the fact that the mullah mindset has indeed become an existential threat for the army.

    Past buddies have become foes, and foes have become good friends.Recommend

  • Anon

    Nawaz Sharif will be whatever his masters want him to be… these days its liberal… when the tide turns it will be something else.Recommend

  • Anon

    So remind me again what happened about the Kasur pornography case? And who was involved? And who’s the current law minister who has absolutely no links with any controversial banned religious groups in the country? O and also, that bakery worker that was “liberally” beaten to an inch to his life by the police for refusing the Sharif family service?Recommend

  • Anon

    How long are we going to keep arguing over liberal and conservative while the state machinery basically lies defunct? Nawaz can be as liberal as he likes in passing laws and declaring holidays… but the simple fact is, unless he and his many cronies stop treating government institutions like personal slaves this country is going nowhere… You can just enjoy whether you would like to go nowhere with a liberal label (chanting buzzwords picked up along the way) or a conservative one(chanting older buzzwords picked up some time ago)!Recommend

  • UzairH

    Nawaz Sharif is indeed slowly proving to be a pleasant surprise. Of course all is not perfect, but I hope that at least that Fazlur Rehman’s statement that NS will revisit the latest Women’s Protection Bill turns out to be false bravado from the bearded one.

    By the way, Noman bro, I am an admirer of your blogs and generally agree with them – however may I make an editorial suggestion? Was the inclusion of the Mystique screenshot really necessary? That is essentially a body-painted human (yes technically a mutant) female. I am all for liberalism, freedom of speech and press etc, but we do have to draw a line at body-painted figures in a mainstream Pakistani newspaper’s website, no? Plus the whole Mystique reference in the article detracts from the message you are trying to convey, I estimate at most 10% of the readers would get the reference and the rest will be scratching their heads (whilst ogling the photo, I guess…)


  • Kolsat

    why the religious parties do not protest against kidnappings?Recommend

  • Indusengineer

    But thousands of religious seminaries across Punjab are still untouched, and the terrorist groups are openly roaming by renaming their groups as charity-organizations.Recommend

  • Shah Muhammad

    The uncritical celebration of liberalism on these blogs, especially by this imbecile author, is pathetic. Read this as a starter to think more clearly: http://bostonreview.net/archives/BR28.2/mahmood.htmlRecommend

  • Sini Rao

    As WE the US said EARLIER, this Prime Minister is a PERFECT BUSINESS MAN and knows WHEN TO givein and move forward. His actions REFLECTS this very well if you look at the his HISTORY. Prime Minister in order to SUCCEED, should be a PERFECT BUSINESS person, one who knows when to FLEX and reflex in times of Need. WE have typical example in the neighboring Country India,being lead by a BUSINESS MAN POLITICIAN who knows it very well.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Go_Nawaz_Go HassaanM

    “When Imran Khan ran a circus after being controlled like a pawn that was convinced it was on a path to become the queen…”
    Talk about a biased article. Where is the evidence apart from the hearsay? You state it like it is a fact.Recommend

  • Ali S

    Nah I don’t think so. Even back in 2014, Nawaz wanted to have ‘dialogue’ with these monsters. You don’t grow a spine in two years. Imran Khan, on the other hand, remains as ideologically confused and reactionary as he always has been – him and Nawaz actually had a very similar opinion on how to deal with extremism (i.e. pander even more to it). It’s more a case of being on the winning side – fortunately, with Raheel Sharif at the helm, the winning side is finally against the ogres that Pakistan had tolerated or supported for so long. Let’s hope it remains that way.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Thanks. Great comment.Recommend

  • salman

    So now Nawaz is acting like a pseudo-liberal, all his past
    corruption, money laundering and blunders are to be forgiven?

    I voted for PTI, and am disappointed in some of their actions
    since last elections (the dharna being the biggest mistake – especially if you
    take the deal that is offered on day 100 that was also offered on day one).

    Some of the work they have done in KP is good. I might consider voting for PTI
    next elections, but I will never vote for a corrupt person like Nawaz or Zardari.

    Just can’t bring myself to do it.Recommend

  • Farooq

    such laws are only useful if they are applied, if it is only on paper, nothing changes, time will tell if implementation takes place as well or notRecommend

  • Veryrealistic

    This article exposes the gullibility of the socalled educated people. Or Mr Ansari must have been paid to write while living outside.Recommend