Police are present as Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the President of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) leads a protest in Lahore, Pakistan on July 13, 2018. This comes as PML-N supporters try to reach the airport to protest in favor of Nawaz Sharif, attempting to welcome him and his daughter Maryam Nawaz back from London. All routes going towards the airport are now blocked by containers.

It was Fatimah Jinnah in the 1960s who was termed a traitor, Sheikh Mujib in the 1970s, Zulfiqar Bhutto in the late ’70s, and then Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were declared corrupt and traitors in the 1990s. But the course of history proved that they were the ones who were on the right side of history while dictators like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf stood on the wrong side of history.

Some battles are actually decided by history, and it seems Sharif has created a history. A fearless Sharif and his daughter Maryam while sitting behind bars will be smiling, as they have shown to the whole world what actually is the difference between popular political figures and dictators.

Pervez Musharraf, the former army chief and dictator who is sitting in the comfort of his luxury apartment as an absconder in Dubai and unlike Sharif is hiding from the court, eventually has learned the meaning of courage and bravery. The same is the case with the invisible forces, who actually saw the power of a popular leader in the form of public support. Nawaz and Maryam coming to Pakistan to face arrest have actually changed the dynamics of politics in Pakistan. For sure, the path of resistance will not lead them to power but it has dented the hegemony of the invisible forces.

The grip of the deep state is becoming weak with every passing day and it can be considered the beginning of an end to their hegemony and control over the country’s policies and decisions.

The path chosen by Sharif and Maryam is a long journey and it requires nerves of steel to travel on this path. So far both have shown that they have the nerves not only to walk this path but also to take on the invisible forces.

The moment expressways and national highways were blocked and Lahore was virtually seized, Sharif and his daughter had won the battle. In politics, it is all about perception, and Sharif and his daughter successfully created the perception that they are brave enough to face all the consequences as a result of not bowing down to the establishment.

It was a good show of strength by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in the streets of Lahore after large numbers of its workers were arrested by the caretaker government of Punjab. Even the blockade of roads and teargas and baton charges by the rangers and police were not enough to stop the workers of PML-N to come to the streets in support of Sharif and his daughter.

The mainstream media, under immense pressure from the state, did not give coverage to the massive public rallies by PML-N in Lahore, TV anchors sided with the establishment, and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party did its best to spread propaganda, but it was not enough to stop people from coming to the streets in support of Sharif and his daughter.

One wonders when the invisible forces and puppets like Imran Khan will learn the simple point that the age of bullying the masses through propaganda is over. You cannot force people to hate political figures by portraying them as traitors, security risks, and thieves.

The questions raised by Sharif and Maryam are valid and they must be answered. Both of them have actually pointed out the chain of events of the last 70 years that led to the demise of the country and its democracy. The narrative of giving respect to the vote is not only popular but has also forced ordinary people to think rationally about why it is that elected leaders are hanged or put behind bars, why an absconder like Musharraf, who suspended the constitution of Pakistan, is enjoying his life in a foreign land while the courts do not dare pass any order against him, and why an assassin like Rao Anwar is granted  bail while a three-time-elected prime minister is put behind bars.

The narrative and ideology of Sharif are supported by a large segment of the population in Punjab and unlike election results, which can be managed by political engineering, ideologies can never be managed, nor can thoughts be put behind bars. If the invisible forces still think that by putting Sharif behind bars they can put an end to his narrative against the establishment, then they are totally wrong.

It is not the end of the story by any means. Each and every single moment Sharif and his daughter spend behind bars will eventually strengthen their narrative and it will also add immense pressure on the invisible forces and their pawn Imran Khan.

In fact, Sharif and Maryam going to jail has given a new lease on life to the fragile democracy in Pakistan. Political leaders do not have guns like the army dictators, but the support of masses is much more powerful and lethal than any gun. History tells us that the political figure who enjoys the support of the masses can never be thrown out of the political sphere, nor can his ideology be hijacked.

Sharif was convicted by the same courts in the Musharraf era and sent to jail and he got a clean chit a few years later and won a two-thirds majority in the general elections just because he had public sympathy and support. Sharif might not be able to bring victory for PML-N in upcoming elections this time, but he has the ability and the mass support to rise again, and if he or Maryam rises again it will be game over for the forces who manufacture public opinion and influence elections and state policies.

The victimization of the Sharif family and a controversial court judgment that sent Nawaz and his daughter behind the bars has already given birth to a political heir and the symbol of anti-establishment politics in the form of Maryam Nawaz.

Sharif’s gamble is not all about winning the upcoming elections as he is eyeing something big. He has read the writing on the wall and he knows that the political and social dynamics of the country have changed. So Sharif has corrected his political philosophy and by not surrendering to the invisible forces he has actually silenced all the critics who used to criticize his past affiliation with the establishment.

Sharif has pinned all his hopes on the masses, and no one knows better than him that the leader who enjoys public support ultimately prevails against the visible and invisible forces. Imran Khan in his lust for power has a very shortsighted vision and is unable to see that manufactured opinion through propaganda does not last long, nor will the forces using him support him forever.

As far as the invisible forces are concerned, they are feeling the heat at this time as it is still not over even after the arrest of Sharif and his daughter. The longer the battle, the harder it is to win merely on sloganeering and propaganda.

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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