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The return of Nawaz Sharif

Hand it to Maryam Nawaz for helping her father into standing to adversity, and in bringing him back to keep his, hers and his party’s politics relevant. Left to him, in the backdrop of the most unfortunate state of health of his wife, he would have probably been ready to hang his boots and simply live out the remaining moments in the company of his ailing wife. Reportedly, he wished to pass the baton to his younger brother, heir apparent for as many decades, but the power struggle within the family precluded such an orderly option. Instead he and his daughter, the more dominant part of the power equation, retain the limelight.

A prison sentence awaits Nawaz’s return. Claims of responding to a larger calling – fighting for the cause of the poor, democracy and the people, rolled into one – is patently rhetorical. The burden of imprisonment at his age may just be additional suffering for an aching heart and a hurting body. Yet politics and its dynamics make him suffer the agony. More cases against him in the courts with similar outcomes will only add to his suffering. The fight-back that Nawaz made after his disqualification, and his subsequent tribulations since, was a rearguard effort to save himself from embarrassment in an unfortunate turn of fate which he hoped to wash away by agitating popular support.

It is unfortunate that power in Pakistan is always unbridled, and practically all leaders and rulers are the poorest in recognising its limits. We make short of the law and dismiss any restraining considerations. This makes way for misuse of authority which mostly turns to misappropriating lucre and authority in its various manifestations. That Mian Sahib was caught in a web of his own making only goes to prove that the law will catch up one day. It did for him. He is putting up a brave face even as he pains to struggles through the most desperate period of his life. His handlers have successfully painted him defiant against inimical forces in an image carefully nurtured and imaginatively created over time.

When the DG ISPR chose to address allegations against the army voiced by domestic forces behind the Sharif narrative, the face-off was neatly entrenched. While many chanted appreciation in the manner of his absorbing the denigration and name-calling, the real winners were Nawaz Sharif and Maryam. It seemed that the establishment was playing out of Maryam’s playbook. It was the Sharifs vs the army. And this is no mean achievement by a set of ‘convicts’ and some very smart political advice. Options are still open to the Sharifs to fight their conviction, but the chances of their shedding it seem remote for obvious reasons. The various spins to the judgments have been effective for a mostly semi-literate electorate but there exists an equal sense among the majority that the Sharifs haven’t been clean. Whether that will impact their prospects on the hustings is to be seen, but in many ways their moment of truth is here. Some call it heavenly retribution and slow churning of God’s wheels, but it only makes for a sad spectacle.

What then is the way out for the PML-N and those attached to its promise? Were the duo not to come back, that would have spelt an end to their politics. Sharif may have escaped the ignominy and pain of incarceration biding his time in exile, while Maryam would have waited for an opportune time to return and retake the political mentorship. But for all these years with an entrenched Shahbaz stream of the family in control, displacing them would have become a challenge. With her aging father absent from the political scene it would have been just a very tall order to regain control. Hence the return of the duo.

The father will suffer so that he can keep Maryam alive in the party. PML-N rank and file already respond to the two. Shahbaz, has found it impossible to break this gridlock. The father and daughter have not only kept the entire support base anchored, they have also thrust themselves in the forefront as the only recognisable power wielders in the party. Shahbaz has simply lain by the side waiting his turn hopelessly reduced to a sideshow.

All in all, Maryam takes the spotlight, playing her hand smartly while being resolutely stubborn. She seems politically well placed to grab power but whether she has the wherewithal to evolve into a politically suave leader beyond the agitation and confrontation that have held her in good stead till now is something to be seen. Whether Nawaz can be remitted part of his sentence and saved from prolonged pain will depend entirely on how the appeals manifest but his political career is all but over. He is in jail to enable his daughter take the reins of power that he so carefully and flatteringly nurtured over decades. To him it may be the rightful culmination of his long political era.

How the PML-N might fare under Maryam is another tale. But she is here to stay and her evolution into a political leader of consequence will be of great interest to all. When more assuredly in the saddle she may just turn out to be less combative. If not, we may still have a long road ahead in search of stability and normative existence. That their return can enable the PML-N’s return to power is only speculative. Their priority of course will be to somehow seek overturning the conviction, and a belated possibility for Maryam to enter the electoral race. Of this the chance is pretty slim; the evidence against them so overwhelming. Beyond this. they may hope to seek remission and mitigation of their plight. A PML-N win can assure them those when in power; such is power’s influence even if it is restricted to Punjab. A win there too can be ameliorating. But that isn’t what the father-daughter are pinning their strategy on. Their primary interest remains keeping politically alive and anchoring the existence of the PML-N around their persons. With this the Shahbaz stream will effectively remain a corollary.

As the PPP too feels the heat of law and accountability around past misdemeanours, there are voices recommending withdrawing from the electoral process. The unfortunate demise of another Bilour protégé may well augment such thought towards a withdrawal of some main players. But that shall be a huge political risk to many. An empty Sindh will see replacements from other hopefuls, practically thwarting the launch of young Bilawal’s political career. Similarly, the chances for any betterment in the plight for the Sharifs may simply vanish. Also Maryam may be forced out of the scene for too long, losing her place to family alternates. Such blackmail will thus only badly backfire. Even if the cost to Pakistan in continued instability is not their pale, surely their own futures and of their progeny is. To keep the families relevant, both the PPP and the PML-N are almost pushed to be around and fight on. That also includes going to prison.

Email: shhzdchdhry@yahoo.com

Shahzad Chaudhry, "The return of Nawaz Sharif," The News. 2018-07-13.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political scene , Political advice , Political mentorship , Politicians , Democracy , Accountability , Maryam Nawaz , Nawaz Sharif , Sindh , Pakistan , ISPR , PMLN