Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif leaves the Supreme Court after a land case hearing in Islamabad on December 4, 2018. Photo: AFP/Farooq Naeem

In a recent political development in Pakistan, the main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) appointed Rana Tanvir Hussain as the new Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman, replacing Shahbaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif’s close aide Khawaja Asif has also been appointed as the parliamentary leader of the PML-N.

The move came amid two rumors. The first one is that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been released from prison on bail, has made a deal with the establishment that will allow him to go to London for medical treatment with his daughter Maryam Nawaz.

Over the last few months, the PML-N has been very silent and has abandoned its narrative of Respect the Vote. Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is already in London, is believed to be staying there, and like during the Pervez Musharraf era, the whole Sharif family will eventually go into exile. However, the dynamics of politics have changed, and if Sharif at this juncture leaves home and surrenders in front of the invisible forces, his party could be dismantled very easily.

The PML-N has remained intact despite establishment oppression because Sharif has until now been boldly facing the wrath of establishment, steadfastly refusing to surrender. However, if he makes a deal, it will be the end of the PML-N, as many Punjabi members will leave the party.

The plan seems simple: the invisible forces are waiting for the annual budget of the Center and Punjab to be presented and passed by the assemblies and then they will remove the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf  (PTI) chief minister, Usman Buzdar, from Punjab. Brigadier Ijaz Shah, who has been appointed as an interior minister, has only been brought back to launch a new political party in Punjab and the Center. Brigadier (retired)  Ijaz Shah was instrumental in building the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) during the Pervez Musharraf era.

The PML-Q consisted of members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and PML-N who, due to pressure from state agencies, shifted their loyalties to avoid having cases lodged against them by the National Accountability Bureau. However, it seems unlikely that Sharif will surrender at this point in time and let his detractors prevail over his narrative.

The other rumor emanating from the corridors of power is that Sharif has virtually sidelined Shahbaz Sharif, as his younger brother believes in working with the establishment. Since Shahbaz’s strategy of bowing down to the establishment has confused PML-N voters and did not yield the desired result for the party and his daughter, and Sharif was getting more popular with each passing day, it is possible that the former premier made a call and put his weight behind Maryam.

If this is true then Sharif would be going back to jail and his daughter Maryam would also have to face the music in the coming days. However, in both scenarios, it is evident that the PML-N is divided into two factions. There is a group in the party that wants to bridge its differences with the establishment so the PML-N can seek power again. This group is backing Shahbaz, while the other group is comprised of Sharif loyalists who at any cost want to carry on the fight with the establishment to its logical conclusion.

If there is no possibility of a deal between Sharif and the invisible forces,  why is he so tight-lipped and why is Maryam not actively participating in politics?

If there is no possibility of a deal between Sharif and the invisible forces,  why is he so tight-lipped and why is Maryam not actively participating in politics? In fact, it is quite the opposite, it is the son of Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal Bhutto, who is taking on both the PTI government and the invisible forces with his aggressive speeches and stance in the National Assembly. Since power politics are all about seeking power there is a possibility that Sharif may wish to buy some time to come up with a new move on the political power chess board, and in order to do so he might bow down to the invisible forces for the time being. However, the fact remains that if at any time Sharif leaves for London and stays there for a long time along with Maryam, the game will be all over for the PML-N, as  the divided party will be a very soft target for the establishment, which will be able to dislodge it quite easily.

If Sharif compromises or surrenders, it will be game over for him and the PML-N, and if he does not surrender, he and Maryam will be behind bars again. The Supreme Court has started its hearing on Sharif’s petition seeking permission to go to London for medical treatment. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine whether Sharif will be allowed to go to London or not. The political history of the country, however, tells us that courts are always being used to victimize political opponents or for giving them safe passage on behalf of the establishment. So there is a probability that Nawaz will be allowed by the judiciary to go to London and once he reaches there he should stay there for a long time. This will allow all the three players – the establishment, the PTI government and the PML-N – to save face.

The PML-N information secretary and close aide of Sharif Mushaidullah Khan, while talking told this correspondent, said he did not reject the possibility that Sharif could be going to London as a result of a decision by the court. When asked whether Sharif will be going to London, his reply was “maybe.” Since Khan is from a breed of politician who do not like to lie, his “maybe” can be taken as a yes. However, If Sharif prefers to stay behind  bars and Maryam can break her silence, the entire political chessboard will be changed. New public gatherings held by Maryam and the PML-N will reinvigorate the vote bank and the party will be ready to protest in September or November against the incumbent government and its benefactors.

Which way Sharif chooses to go is the million-dollar question and it is time to hedge your bets on what will happen next in the never-ending episode of Pakistan’s game of thrones. A deal between a Sharif and the establishment or the end of the Shahbaz Sharif’s narrative of mending fences with the establishment? Will Maryam Nawaz take charge of the party from the front and adopt her traditional aggressive narrative against the establishment and the PTI government, or will she be going to London with her father as a result of a deal? It is time to hedge your bets and put your 50 cents on whether we will see another compromise or another nerve-wracking round of political fighting on the power chess board.

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