Shroud-wearing activists of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party shout slogans as they take part in a protest in Multan on July 8, 2018, after a sentencing decision against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: AFP / SS Mirza
Shroud-wearing activists of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party shout slogans as they take part in a protest in Multan on July 8, 2018, after a sentencing decision against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: AFP / SS Mirza

It was expected that after refusing to bow down to Pakistan’s military establishment, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam would pay the cost, and much to those expectations both were convicted by an accountability court in the Avenfield property case.

Judge Muhammad Bashir sentenced Sharif to 10 years in prison and handed a seven-year term to Maryam, while retired Captain Muhammad Safdar was sentenced to a year in prison. It did not come as a surprise, as the legal and journalist fraternities were expecting the decision against Sharif, his daughter and his son-in-law, Safdar. It was not the first time that a dissenting politician had been sentenced to prison on charges of corruption, while the generals who have imposed martial law have remained free.

From Khawaja Nazimudin to Zulfikar Bhutto and from Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif, it is the same story. Create hype through the media that politicians are responsible for every misery and failure of the country, and after creating this perception against the politicians, dismantle political parties and launch new puppets.

It has been a blind journey, traveling again and again in circles and maintaining the monopoly and hegemony over policies and financial resources for the establishment.

So what’s next? Not only has Sharif been removed, Maryam Nawaz has also been disqualified even before being launched as the political heir of her father. Many including the establishment would have thought that the game is over for Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and it will be a smooth sailing for their puppet Imran Khan afterward.

But Sharif’s decision that he will come back to the country along with his daughter this Friday has completely changed the picture. Sharif is unpredictable and he often surprises his opponents as well as his close aides with his decisions.

No one was expecting Sharif to come back at a time when the courts are giving verdict after verdict against him at the behest of the invisible forces, but he against all the odds announced a comeback. He has thus cleverly diverted attention from the Avenfield verdict, as now mainstream media are discussing his possible return and the scenario after he comes back and is sent behind bars.

If there was any doubt that Sharif would pull in a crowd upon his arrival at Lahore airport, that has been removed with the power show in Rawalpindi on Sunday, where Safdar presented himself to the anti-graft body and police for arrest in the presence of a massive crowd. The crowd chanted slogans against the establishment and Captain Safdar giving himself up in front of them lifted the spirits of the demoralized supporters of PML-N.

Now it is the military-judiciary nexus that is feeling the heat and has been pushed on to the back foot. After all, arresting Sharif and his daughter upon their arrival will not be an easy feat, and the consequences could be grave.

If a massive crowd shows up to receive Sharif and his daughter Maryam upon their arrival in Lahore, it will be an almost impossible task for the law-enforcement agencies to arrest them in front of charged and emotional supporters. If Sharif and Maryam are put behind the bars, it will give them the opportunity to become a symbol of resistance and anti-establishment politics.

Maryam’s aggressive statements in London and Sharif’s shrewd tactics of gathering sympathy have turned the tables in favor of the pro-democratic forces. On the other hand, the pressure is already having an effect on Imran Khan, and the establishment looks totally shocked by Sharif’s decision to come back to Pakistan and face the consequences.

Sharif will not get any relief from the judiciary, which is already under the influence of invisible forces, but he is surely looking for something big, and that is why he is ready to face prison and other difficulties. It would surely have been all over for the PML-N and Sharif had he chosen to sit back in London in self-exile, but his comeback will now not only win him the sympathy vote bank but also he along with his daughter will be remembered for taking a stand against the powerful military establishment.

Right now there are two narratives. One centers on Sharif and is based on anti-establishment politics and civilian supremacy, while the other narrative is being developed by the establishment and has been endorsed by Imran Khan. The latter narrative revolves around rhetoric and extremism and a hostile approach toward neighboring countries. Both narratives are being supported by major chunks of the population. The only thing that is noticeable is the presence of a pure anti-establishment narrative and its acceptance by a massive number of people in Punjab.

While Sharif is fighting against all the odds, history still favors him, as he is the only politician who back in 2007 defeated the odds and  emerged again on the political horizon as a force to be reckoned with.

He was given a two-thirds majority by the voters in the 2013 general election, but as always the mandate of the people was hijacked by the military establishment. So if anyone stands the slightest chance of emerging as a victor against the 70 years of direct and indirect rule by the military establishment, it is Sharif.

And this time he is not alone, as his daughter Maryam Nawaz has also emerged as a strong anti-establishment political figure. The game is no longer about merely winning elections for Sharif, it is all about rewriting history by ending the 70-year rule of the powerful establishment.

The battle is nerve-racking but Sharif has nothing to lose, as if he wins he will change the course of history in Pakistan, and if he loses he will be remembered as a symbol of anti-establishment politics who instead of living in the comfort of London chose to come back and stand for the respect of the ballot.

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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