Supporters of Pakistan former prime minister Nawaz Sharif shout slogans against the Supreme Court decision during a protest in Karachi on December 24, 2018. - Former Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption on December 24, state media reported, the latest conviction in a series of allegations which saw him ousted from power last year. (Photo by ASIF HASSAN / AFP)

Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been sent to jail again. The accountability court on Monday convicted Sharif and sent him to prison for seven years in the Al-Azizia reference while he was acquitted in the flagship reference case.

The flagship reference case was the reason Sharif was disqualified from office and his innocence proven in court, has exposed the game being played to throw him out of power. As far as Sharif’s arrest is concerned, perhaps the decision was expected and everyone knew that Sharif would be jailed to ease some of the pressure on the current setup.

The game is perhaps getting out of the masters’ control. The current regime of Prime Minister Imran Khan installed by the external elements and the country’s establishment perhaps is not delivering the desired results.

The loan from the United Arab Emirates can only solve the financial crisis temporarily. The masters who were trying to achieve the desired design by installing Khan as prime minister perhaps miscalculated the abilities of Sharif to come back and they also underestimated the changes Pakistani society has gone through.

Gone are the days when the moves from the establishment with the collaboration of external hands were only known to the limited few informed people. Nowadays, even a layman with a limited educational background can tell that Sharif is being victimized and that Khan is merely a puppet. So what is next?

The powers who staged this game of thrones will not, of course, let things fall apart so easily, and they must play their new cards soon. The target probably is the reversal of the 18th amendment and the introduction of a presidential system of government. After all, the presidential form of government gives leverage to the invisible forces to control the proceedings without any opposition or a political threat.

The powers who staged this game of thrones will not, of course, let things fall apart so easily, and they must play their new cards soon

Khan himself is interested in the presidential form of government as he is an authoritarian politician who loves power so he can make decisions on his own rather than trusting the collective wisdom of the parliament. However, the problem remains that the current masters of the game are running out of time. The year 2019 will see many high-profile people resigning from their posts, including Chief Justice Saqib Nisar and Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa. This leaves the political chessboard open to different possibilities. If the present design succeeds and even Khan is not able to deliver on the economic front, this will suit the masters of this game. They can then easily force Khan to call an early election and distribute a share of cake to every political player and bring a national government as a result.

That national government can amend the constitution and reverse the 18th amendment. However, a presidential model of governance is not even possible through this; it will need a de facto martial law that can come in the form of an emergency or any other step that will be validated by the courts. Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, has been given a nod in this regard and he and Asif Zardari can help the architects of the game get the desired results. The problem remains that Shahbaz is just playing the game of Nawaz, not the establishment. His diplomatic stance and his will to mend fences with the establishment are only a political effort to gain a space on the power chess boards and, of course, he cannot do this without the approval of Nawaz Sharif.

So doubt will remain between the players and the masters of the political chessboard and it will definitely waste time, time that is already running out for the establishment and the external hands. On the other hand, Sharif has ample time as he is in no hurry to react and agitate against the government of the PTI to topple it. Probably Sharif knows the longer he drags the battle out the harder it will become for the establishment and external hands to control the proceedings.

Sharif will love to see Khan getting buried under the weight of his own failure and incompetence. Sharif also knows that the more time he gives Khan the more economic woes will confront the already fragile economy. It will perhaps disturb the grand scheme of things changing the entire scenario. For that to happen, Sharif will need to bear the brunt in the form of legal cases against him and spending time behind the bars.

Maryam Nawaz’s return has already charged the vote bank of the PML-N, and if she can hold some public gatherings and pull a decent crowd, it will put ample pressure on both the local and foreign invisible forces. Maryam can also be sent behind bars as a result, but then it will add more pressure, as we have seen in the past. Their arrests only added fuel to the fire, eliciting sympathy and reinforcing their narrative of “respect the vote.”

Khan, on the other hand, will be trying to keep the economy ticking along at any cost to stay relevant in the game. His sole bet is placed on the establishment, and he knows that in the end he will also be thrown away by the masters of the game after they get the desired result from him. His only chance of survival is somehow magically getting Pakistan out of its growing economic and financial crisis. The chances are, however, very slim and his team cannot attract foreign investments such as megaprojects. All he can do is somehow get a bailout package from the Gulf states. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE had been instrumental in the game of power and have backed the establishment against Sharif. However, Turkey and China are not stakeholders in the game and they have silently thrown their weight behind Sharif.

Maryam will be the key factor in asserting more pressure on the invisible forces and it will not be easy for the internal and external players to manoeuvre on the political chessboard. This is the case with Sharif as well, as he will face more testing times ahead and Maryam can face consequences as well.

Sharif’s arrest has injected new life into the ranks of the PML-N and its support base. The invisible forces who made this current political design somehow were not able to stop Sharif’s PML-N from getting an adequate number of seats in both the national and provincial assemblies. The growing social and political awareness in society is another hindrance. So the battle is getting deeper and deeper with the passage of time and the next year will determine the outcome. The arrest of Sharif is going to benefit the PML-N in the long run and Maryam will remain a threat to the final outcome of the results of this battle. The question right now is, have the architects of this game lost control of the proceedings and the outcome?

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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