Supporters of Pakistani opposition parties carry placards with the picture of ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif outside the election commission office against the alleged election rigging in Islamabad on August 8, 2018. Pakistani opposition parties rejecting election results on August 2 have agreed to participate in the parliamentary process, take oaths and protest inside and outside the parliament. Imran Khan's party announced it has acquired enough seats in Pakistan's lower house through coalition talks to form a majority government. / AFP PHOTO / FAROOQ NAEEM

There are no permanent friends and no permanent allies in the war to attain power. On the political chessboard, the masses are the pawns used by the chess players to grab power.

After his failure to checkmate the establishment, Nawaz Sharif is silently working on making a compromise in order to save his daughter Maryam Nawaz‘ future. Sharif’s battle to assert his power on matters pertaining to foreign policy and security led to his demise and at the same time, it created an opportunity for Imran Khan to rise on the political horizon.

The state of Pakistan is controlled by the military establishment, which is responsible for giving birth to heroes and antiheroes. It creates political leaders and when it feels threatened by them, it creates an engineered consent through massive propaganda that ultimately leads to the demise of a particular hero it created.

We have seen this again and again during the 71 years of Pakistan’s history. Zulfikar Bhutto was created by the military establishment and then he was overthrown and eventually hanged by the same establishment. Nawaz Sharif was launched by the establishment to counter Bhutto’s daughter Benazir, but instead of taking dictation he understood the game and tried to assert his authority. As a result, he was dismissed from office twice in the 1990s.

Benazir Bhutto read the situation well and opted to work with the establishment, but even she was not able to complete any of her terms in office. Sharif’s return to Pakistan in 2007 from exile and his return to the corridors of power did not happen only with the support of the masses, it was actually the powerful establishment that despite his past gave him another chance in the hope that he had learned his lesson. But Sharif again got involved in a rift with the establishment and eventually he was thrown out of politics completely, and this time put behind bars with his daughter Maryam.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan was launched by the establishment with the help of the electronic media. A powerful propaganda campaign presented him as a new messiah for the masses. Despite his dismal performance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the government led by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was not able to launch even a single mega-project, he managed to win this year’s general election.

It is no mystery who helped Khan win the general election and who stopped Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party from reclaiming Punjab and the center by depriving them of a level playing field. It raises a question of whether Sharif misread the political events or was too confident of winning against all odds merely on the basis of his party’s good performance in the province of Punjab and federally. After all, power politics is all about grabbing power, and none of the players involved in the battle actually like to be deprived of power by challenging the traditional status quo.

Many PML-N voters and supporters believe that Sharif actually challenged the establishment and along with his daughter was trying to tilt the balance of power in favor of civilian rule. However, his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz were not in favor of Sharif’s narrative and style of politics. However, Nawaz Sharif actually never walked the path of real resistance and genuine anti-establishment politics. He might have challenged a few faces of the current establishment, but of course like every other politician his sole motive was to grab power.

Power politics is all about grabbing power, and none of the players involved in the battle actually like to be deprived of power by challenging the traditional status quo

Since he was disqualified by the courts and was not acceptable to the establishment, he did not have any other choice but to resist the forces working against him. However, he is a shrewd politician and he never shut the door on negotiations with the invisible forces in the form of Shahbaz Sharif.

Shahbaz played the role of good cop to negotiate with the establishment and at the same time, he was presented as a bad cop to the PML-N vote bank. Sharif played the role of bad cop to assert pressure on the establishment for gaining the political space and he appeared as a good cop to his followers and supporters, who were genuinely challenging the status quo forces. Sharif knew that he would not be allowed any space but he wanted to retain the province of Punjab to carry on the battle with the invisible opponent forces.

Sharif’s decision to leave Pakistan to see his ailing wife at a time when his party was feeling the wrath of the establishment resulted in major defections from southern Punjab, and by the time he returned to the country to face arrest, it was already too late, The damage was already done – a perception was already created through propaganda that his party would not be given any space in Punjab either.

It would have been much better had Sharif worked on a formula to get a clean chit for Maryam and left her in London to take care of the ailing Kalsoom Nawaz. Another mistake was Sharif’s miscalculation of his voters’ strength. His voters were and still are not prepared for the agitation mode of politics, nor does his second-tier party leadership have the firebrand style of Maryam Nawaz to engage the youth and the urban class. Perhaps by being jailed Sharif has already saved the future of Maryam, and she can rise on the political horizon as his political heir, but for that to happen Sharif needs to make a compromise.

While many in the journalism community have written Sharif and his daughter off, the reality is quite different. People in very informed circles believe the pair will be released within a few weeks and will go to London as a result of a deal. Maryam sooner or later will be given a clean chit to acquire political space and she will lead the party in the future, with the impression that her eyes are set on challenging and overthrowing the status-quo forces.

This will mean she will have to make a few compromises, and every compromise will invite new demands. So it can be said that Maryam probably will continue her style of anti-establishment politics in the future, but she will actually be fighting for the lost fort of Punjab more than anything. That will probably be good for PML-N and the House of Sharif, but it will actually result in the continuity of the invisible rule of the establishment and the absence of real anti-status-quo politics and political leadership in Pakistan.

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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