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The real uncle problem

Is it about one uncle or a host of troublesome uncles that need to be sorted out here? The question is of vital importance as, exactly as predicted, Maryam Nawaz begins her new target-big-five campaign with a public meeting. Her speech was short on unique aspects and even the least knowledgeable of her countrymen easily foretold in advance precisely what ammunition she was going to be armed with against whom. Similarly, a lot many in the crowd thought that one of the most crucial jobs awaiting was the cleansing of the Sharif stable of some worn-out horses. Some believe the moment of reckoning has arrived.

The formula for the possible remedy about getting rid of the uncles was borrowed from none other than who Maryam has been often, fairly or unfairly, been compared with. The pundits believed that if Benazir Bhutto could feel the need to shunt out her father’s veteran colleagues from the party, a Maryam Nawaz looking to reinvent the PML-N could naturally be overcome with a similar urge. The disparities between two situations was ignored in favour of easy explanation, the desire for a quick fix for a collapsing N-League justifying the most drastic surgeries of the party in the eyes of its supporters.

This is not ‘shaheedon ki PPP’ that was beset with all kinds of scheming uncles seeking to establish their own authority on the party or, failing that, creating their own brand. Maryam Nawaz is no youthful Benazir Bhutto suddenly thrown up by events to lead the party which provided her a certain kind of mystique. She had her own persona, which set her apart from her father instead of her being considered as a mere extension of her father. This is not a PPP faced with the might of dictator Gen Ziaul Haq that needs to be saved and propelled here.

To begin with, the man whose lieutenants are supposed to be summarily dismissed from the party here — his name Mian Nawaz Sharif — is firmly in command of his party. In exile, he has been forced by circumstances to have his daughter act as his agent, but this responsibility for the ‘young’ Maryam comes with certain limitations. She cannot just go in there and give marching orders to those she finds herself stifled by. Nawaz Sharif on his turn is compelled to back old pals and hope that they will rediscover the magic which once enabled his GT Road cabinets to emerge as the most efficient of all setups in Pakistani politics.

There is no more undesirable Maryam Nawaz uncle out there than Ishaq Dar. If someone had seen the ready need to make him disappear from the scene, Nawaz Sharif did ensure that Dar Sahab remained in charge of the most important ministry after the dismissal of Shehbaz Sharif’s choice for the job. The case inspires little confidence that any drive by Maryam will purge the PML-N of what are popularly designated as unwanted, outdated personalities.

The truth is that so many of these so-called party uncles to Maryam have been most vocal in demanding a return of Mian Sahab to take over from an under-pressure Shehbaz Sharif. They are the old guard, from Rana Sanaullah to Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who are the most prominent members of the Nawaz flank in the party. Take them out and the father-daughter camp claiming supremacy in the PML-N would be left with too much noise and too little substance.

The impression that an anti-party veterans advance would lead to a decline in quality on the PML-N stage is strengthened by the experiment Maryam carried out some time ago amid speculations that she was poised to take over the party. A new narrative existing at a distance from Shehbaz Sharif’s old-fashioned and pro-establishment refrain was considered essential. And guess who were the people selected by the inventors of the Maryam media onslaught? If the intent again is to replace the likes of Abbasi with firebrands and often outright vulgar Talal Chaudhrys of the world, then this latest drive to find young substitutes to old and haggard uncles will suffer more in terms of quality than did Benazir’s effort all those years back.

Maryam does carry a brief for change from her father and this will make many among the ‘older lot’ in the party vulnerable. But even when those calling out to Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to be more decisive in his opposition to the current PM-LN policies including Maryam Nawaz’s leadership would disagree, the gap between the perceptions of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ may not be unbridgeable yet. From Ahsan Iqbal to Captain Safdar, the uncles Maryam is being told to be wary of may not be as difficult to teach as perhaps were the oldies in other parties in the days gone by.

Feathers have been ruffled since Maryam’s climb to the top, but by and large it is viewed as an intra-family problem rather than being an intra-party one. The choice for a large number of PML-N workers is between Maryam and Shehbaz and not between Maryam and her political uncles. The divide has sharpened after a clear retreat by talented cousin Hamza Shehbaz from the competition for wearing the mantle of the N-League leader. The threat is a real one.

Asha’ar Rehman, "The real uncle problem," The News. 2023-02-04.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political uncles , Politics-Pakistan , Hamza Shehbaz , Captain Safdar , Pakistan , PMLN , PPP