Maryam and Nawaz Sharif at Abu Dhabi airport on their way back to Pakistan on July 13, 2018. Photo: Twitter
Maryam and Nawaz Sharif at Abu Dhabi airport on their way back to Pakistan on July 13, 2018. Photo: Twitter

The power chessboard belongs to those who know how and when to move the chess pieces. Even after Pakistan’s general elections, it is not clear who has won or lost the latest battle.

The Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has emerged as the single largest party in the parliament but it is dependent on a coalition of several other parties. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), after strong victimization and being denied a level playing field, still managed to win 64 National Assembly seats.

It also succeeded in emerging as the single largest party in Punjab, though it is likely that enough other parties will be pressured into joining with the PTI that it will also form a government in that province.

It looks like a happy ending on paper as the target is being achieved: Imran Khan has finally won the throne through a victory in the general elections. Nawaz Sharif, the ex-prime minister and a threat to establishment hegemony, has been removed from electoral politics and sent to jail, and his base of Punjab has been shaken. But there is still a sense of uncertainty and a fear of Sharif rising again from nowhere that has been causing headaches to the scriptwriters of the recent elections.

A free hand to PTI and Sharif and Maryam Nawaz both behind bars added up to an ideal position for the invisible forces to maneuver things in their favor. It was meant to be a cakewalk for the invisible forces, but somehow with all the odds against him, Sharif still managed to get around 13 million votes. These votes were in support of the narrative of “respect my vote,” a narrative that no political party has ever fought elections on before. Not even Benazir Bhutto fought an election by challenging the traditional status quo and merely on the slogan of democratic and civil supremacy.

That is the reason Sharif and his daughter Maryam both will be content even though they are sitting behind bars, as they have managed to grab a sizable number of votes in favor of their narrative. Imran Khan, on the other hand, is left with the option to act like the previous “yes, boss” kind of prime ministers. He may win the premiership in the National Assembly by the margin of a few votes like Mir Zafar Ullah Khan Jamali won during the Pervez Musharraf era. However, the cost is too high; like Jamali, Khan will be only a ceremonial prime minister and the decisions will be made somewhere else.

After all, the throne earned through compromises belongs to the powers who force compromises on the throne seeker. Usually, in the past, the invisible forces after managing the desired results would end the unseen curbs and censorship on media, but this is not the case this time. Even the typical media mouthpieces of the invisible forces are reluctant to rejoice in the victory as even their defeat in the elections has not weakened the defiance of Sharif and Maryam. This makes the situation very complex as every day Sharif and Maryam spend behind bars increases their political stature and puts immense pressure on the orchestrators of the whole drama.

Much to the surprise of the scriptwriters, Sharif has not appealed for any deal, nor has he accepted an offer of a deal. Maryam Nawaz is staying strong as well and her defiance has made her the future leader of the PML-N. Now under the leadership of Nawaz’ brother Shahbaz Sharif, PML-N has no spark. It is the narrative of Nawaz Sharif that won the party votes in the general elections, but the visionless Shahbaz is heading nowhere, and his soft stance regarding the establishment is already making the vote bank annoyed and angry.

So this leaves the battle open, as if Sharif and Maryam opt to stay behind bars it will be almost impossible for the invisible forces to eliminate them from the political horizon. Sharif knows that a weak PTI government in the center and in the province of Punjab can easily be exploited by giving it a tough time in the assembly and by protesting against the alleged rigging of the elections.

Imran Khan badly needs the Asif Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party to bail him out, as otherwise, he will not be able to get a single bill passed in the National Assembly or the Senate. But allegations of corruption and money laundering against Zardari have been reopened, and if he falls prey to the invisible forces, it will definitely help the establishment to run the show smoothly.

As far as Sharif is concerned the game is not over yet. As long as he prefers to stay behind bars and does not seek any deal from the powers that be, his vote bank will remain intact and his narrative will strengthen with each passing day. If he and Maryam both are granted bail by the court, then they can create havoc for the already weak PTI-led coalition government, and this could loosen the invisible forces’ grip on power.

On the other hand, if the invisible forces somehow break the defiance of Sharif and Maryam, and force them to seek a deal, Sharif’s politics will be over, and no one in the near future will dare to challenge the status quo. On the power chessboard, only the positions are changed – no one has been thrown out of the game yet.

Sharif’s PML-N has been pushed on to the back foot and Khan’s PTI has been brought on to the front foot, but neither Sharif nor Maryam has been knocked out of the game, as it is resistance in adverse times that determines the outcome of battles. The game is not over until it is over, and so far it is even, as both Sharif and Maryam are battling it out, and it will be next to impossible to keep them behind bars for a long period of time.

Winning or losing any engineered election does not matter in the path of politics that is based on resistance – it is the ability to absorb pressure and to rise above temporary setbacks that decide the winners.

For the invisible forces, it is all about persuading Sharif to compromise and seek a deal so he can be sent out to a foreign country. If this happens, the Sharif-led PML-N will be finished. On the other hand, defiance and resisting the discomfort of jail and fighting the mental torture instead of seeking any deal from the establishment could save the day for Sharif and Maryam. If they can keep their nerve, no one can stop them from rising against the odds.

A thrilling and nerve-racking battle on the power chessboard still awaits all the players, as it is far from over yet.

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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