Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif (center left) sits in a car as he heads back to Kot Lakpat Jail in Lahore on May 7, 2019, after the expiry of his bail. Photo: AFP / Ali Murtaza

As a jam-packed and emotionally charged crowd looked on, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, returned to Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore as his bail granted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan ended on Tuesday. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz  (PML-N) had only decided a few days earlier to invite supporters to bid farewell to Sharif. Last week, Sharif restructured his party, giving all the important roles to close aides who are considered anti-establishment leaders in the PML-N cadre.

From Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to Khawaja Asif and from Mushahid Ullah Khan to Pervaiz Rashid and Tariq Fatemi, every one has been given a designation and role, which means that Sharif is not ready for any reconciliation with the military establishment, at least under the prevailing conditions. His daughter Maryam Nawaz has also been given the important role of vice-president of PML-N. Her rise to the VP slot has immediately brought positive results for the PML-N as it produced a massive show of power on Tuesday as Sharif went back to the prison. Maryam was not only able to pull in large crowds but was also able to ensure supporters that she and her father both were still firm on their narrative of “respect the vote.”

The mismanagement of the incumbent government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the invisible forces directing mainstream media not to give live coverage of the PML-N rally on Tuesday actually helped Maryam Nawaz and the party to achieve mileage from this show of power. Maryam has successfully proved that Pakistan is under a faceless martial law and there is no freedom of the press and expression in the country at the moment.

On the other hand, this massive show of power has sent a message to the establishment that Punjab still stands with Sharif and still thinks he was victimized and the ballot of masses stolen only to bring Imran Khan into power, so the invisible forces can continue their hegemony over state affairs. Perhaps PML-N has wasted too much time reaching the conclusion that silence from Maryam Nawaz or Sharif will only push the party further into an abyss and give more space to the invisible forces to control the power chessboard.

The response from the crowd at the Tuesday rally should at least give both Maryam and her father a lesson that the more they bank on the masses, the more powerful they become

The response from the crowd at the Tuesday rally should at least give both Maryam and her father a lesson that the more they bank on the masses, the more powerful they become. In any case, with this event PML-N has finally buried rumors of a possible deal with the establishment. In fact, it has proved that the situation is quite different from what is being propagated by the invisible forces and the PTI government.

Sharif still has his vote bank charged and intact, and now has proved that he still rides a wave of sympathy in Punjab. And in the meantime, the PTI government has failed miserably to address the economic crisis and as a result, the invisible forces have pressed Prime Minister Imran Khan to change his key cabinet members.

Right now most of the cabinet members are from General Pervez Musharraf’s era and the era of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Even Raza Baqir, who was acting as an adviser to the International Monetary Fund in Egypt, has been called to Islamabad and within a day was made governor of the State Bank of Pakistan to appease the IMF. So in a situation where the PTI government has no clue about how to address the economic crisis of the country and where the establishment is caught in its own trap, as neither can it immediately get rid of Khan nor it can it trust the PPP and its chairman Asif Zardari, Sharif is the only viable option, backed by a team that has good international credibility and who knows how to tackle the bureaucracy.

So it is the establishment that might be interested in engaging Sharif again in dialogue and making a deal with him so it can get out of the self-inflicted economic and political crisis in the country. However, Sharif again has proved that his political agenda is not over. Instead of waiting for the right time to negotiate, he should put further pressure on the establishment by holding more public gatherings through Maryam Nawaz, who undoubtedly can pull in massive crowds with a notice of just a few days or hours. It will be much better for Sharif to take this battle to its logical conclusion without even giving his detractors a sniff that he is interested in a compromise or a deal.

The more economic woes confront the PTI government, the more heat the establishment will feel. Meanwhile, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is putting immense pressure on the establishment to return to its constitutional role. In an atmosphere like this, Zardari may have played well on the power chessboard by not going fully against the establishment, but he surely has lost momentum. In the prevailing circumstances, Zardari can only get a little share of the cake but he can never bring his party back to the center of power as Punjab is showing resentment against pro-establishment politics.

Sharif was elected three times as prime minister but every time he was thrown out of office by the military establishment, so no one knows better than him that under the prevailing status quo there is no use making another compromise and coming to power a fourth time only to be kicked out again by the same establishment. Sharif may be suffering from health problems, but his daughter Maryam is proving to be the worst nightmare for both PTI and the establishment, and she is giving them sleepless nights. If only Sharif and PML-N decide to keep walking on the path of resistance, it will not take long to push the invisible forces on to the back foot.

On the other hand, Sharif presenting himself to the prison authorities in the presence of thousands of supporters has also raised a question of why it has always been the politicians who have been convicted through controversial court decisions and yet they never run, but in fact present themselves to the authorities, while dictators like General Musharraf have always escaped from the country, and no court or any authority has dared to bring them back to the country.

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