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ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON IN EARLY MARCH, the two-time former prime minister and current leader of Pakistan’s opposition, Nawaz Sharif, inaugurated the refurbished Pak Tea House in Lahore—the old hangout of progressive Pakistani luminaries such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmad Faraz and Saadat Hassan Manto. (It was known as the India Tea House before Partition.) Sharif entered through the front door, surrounded by a contingent of security personnel in plain clothes who pushed through the crowd to sculpt a path for him. As Sharif was making his way up the cramped, winding staircase, a group of young men, presumably uninvited locals from the Mall Road outside, tried to force their way in; Sharif’s guards pushed the door on resisting hands and feet and shoulders and elbows until they were finally able to slam it shut.
“Pakistan’s writers and intellectuals are its assets,” Sharif said in a calm baritone, upstairs, where tea and fried sweets were neatly arrayed on a thick white tablecloth. “The reopening of the Pak Tea House is no less important than launching the [Lahore] Metro Bus Service project.” It was a canny little statement—the juxtaposition of two wholly dissimilar initiatives of the Punjab government, which is controlled by Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN), and headed by his younger brother, Shahbaz—designed to please the small congregation of left-wing short-story writers and columnists present in the café.