The daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz. Photo: AFP
Maryam Nawaz. Photo: AFP

Finally, Pakistan’s ailing ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been granted bail on medical grounds by the Supreme Court. However, Sharif has only been granted a temporary bail of six weeks to get himself the medical treatment of his choice. The Supreme Court in its four-page judgment said that after six weeks he would have to surrender to the prison authorities. He has also been not allowed to leave the country to seek medical treatment.

This may look like temporary relief but for Sharif, it is a breather during which he not only can get medical treatment but also organize his party and lay down a new political strategy for the future.

In another important development, Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif’s name has been removed from the exit control list, and now he can travel abroad. For sure this cannot be termed a coincidence, as Shahbaz has been working tirelessly to get relief for his elder brother Nawaz from the invisible forces.

There had also been immense pressure by Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Nawaz Sharif, through her social-media team to push both his visible and invisible detractors to give him temporary relief.

There is another angle to the temporary relief given to Sharif, and that is the rise of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the grandson of the late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bilawal has taken the route of his grandfather and is challenging the invisible forces openly by asking  the same questions Sharif and his daughter raised during the election campaign last year. Bilawal has been traveling by train across the province of Sindh and mobilizing his political workers. Since his father Asif Ali Zardari could be arrested in the near future, he is bluntly criticizing the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for being a puppet of the invisible forces.

So there is a possibility that in order not to let Bilawal and Maryam join hands and launch a protest movement together against the PTI government and the invisible forces, the shrewd men of the military establishment have given Sharif temporary relief. There are many possibilities, but the reality remains that with the passage of time, the establishment’s doctrine to diminish Sharif and the top leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is gradually becoming a catch-22 situation for the establishment itself.

Khan has no clue about governance and with his opposition mindset, he seems like an opposition leader rather then a prime minister, as most of his time and energies are spent on threatening rival parties and challenging them to hold demonstrations against his government. His cabinet members pass inordinate time on Twitter and on TV channels rather than focusing on solutions for the current economic turmoil.

Had China not recently deposited US$2.2 billion in the national treasury of Pakistan, it would have been almost impossible for the government to repay due foreign debts. So it is a catch-22 situation for the establishment, as if it continues to rule from behind the scenes with the current government being its face, the risk is that the economy will deteriorate further, and gradually it will become impossible for the establishment to rule a country with dwindling foreign reserves and no investments.

On the other hand, even if the younger Sharif, who is still in their good books, is being given a free hand to topple the PTI government in Punjab province, which his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) can do at any time, the reality remains that after Nawaz himself, PML-N voters only accept Maryam Nawaz as the party head and heir to her father’s political dynasty.

All this remains a threat for the establishment, and it knows that with every retreat or compromise it will gradually lose the hegemony it once enjoyed. However, on the other hand, it is also a test of nerves for Sharif, as if he compromises now, not only he but his party will lose their democratic credentials while the first ever anti-establishment movement raised from Punjab will die.

Sharif already is bearing the brunt of taking on the invisible forces, as from the way he is being humiliated and mentally tortured in jail it is clear that the invisible forces have lost the battle of nerves against him. Perhaps they thought that Sharif would bend and beg for a deal, but against all the odds he stood firm. His party has been quite silent for the past few months and has almost given up its anti-establishment narrative, but the movement he started has taken root in the province of Punjab.

So any compromise or Shahbaz Sharif’s style of politics will only result in a loss of popularity for PML-N in Punjab. Though Shahbaz is playing the game well by acting as a good cop and engaging the establishment to mend fences, gone are the days when hidden deals and the dynamics of power politics were not understood by the masses.

Nawaz Sharif has to decide during these six weeks whether he is ready to remain behind bars for a long time or should accept the offer from the invisible forces and quit politics along with his daughter. The same is the case with Asif Zardari’s PPP, which is now feeling the heat and adopting Sharif’s narrative. However, if Zardari is serious about taking on the invisible forces and not just trying to avoid jail by applying pressure through his son Bilawal, then he may need to join hands with PML-N and bring about change in the upper house, the Senate of Pakistan, where the PPP and PML-N together enjoy a majority.

However, even if Zardari does not join forces with PML-N, Nawaz Sharif has already gone very far on the path of anti-establishment politics and it will be almost impossible for him to accept any deal that robs him of his narrative or his aggressive political style. Things were planned and engineered, but the problem is that an engineered political discourse does not last for long as it is artificial. Perhaps the architects of the game made the same mistake their predecessors made, the inability to read the writing on the wall and denying the collective wisdom of the masses.

The problem with Pakistan had been that whenever the elected leadership had the chance to assert its authority, it always chose to mend fences with the establishment in order to avoid prison and to have a share of power. Now for the first time the most popular party in Punjab and its leader Nawaz Sharif have outsmarted the establishment by patiently bearing the consequences. Now how far and for how long Sharif and his party can go remains the question, as Punjab is slowly but gradually awakening. If Bilawal too can follow the path of his late mother Benazir Bhutto, then very soon we will see a shift in the balance of power in favor of the elected leadership.

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