Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, poses for a picture with a supporter at a rally in Lahore, on September 9, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Drazen Jorgic
Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, poses for a picture with a supporter at a rally in Lahore, on September 9, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Drazen Jorgic

Pakistan is facing self-inflicted political and economic turmoil due to the experiment of bringing Imran Khan to power by the military establishment. Ever since Khan assumed office the crisis has worsened as he focused all his energies on victimizing his political rivals.

The security establishment backed him as it wanted to teach a lesson to ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif for not taking dictation from the military and creating an anti-establishment narrative in the province of Punjab, which once was considered the fortress of the establishment. Since both Khan and the establishment were kept busy trying to keep the artificial political discourse intact, they were not able to focus on improving the economy. As a result, neither has the political crisis been resolved nor the economic turmoil addressed properly.

At the moment Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, a staunch political rival of Imran Khan, is conducting a sit-in protest in Islamabad accompanied by a massive crowd. The establishment, despite being able to control the two main opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is still feeling the heat as Fazal on his own has successfully gathered a large number of people to protest against the government.

Fazal, of course, is primarily interested in his own political survival, but he has managed to challenge the establishment directly because of his religious vote bank. On the other hand, both the PPP and PML-N have opted not to go against the establishment at a time when they actually could have pushed the military back into its constitutional role of protecting the borders of the country instead of interfering in the political discourse of the country.

The PPP was never expected to go all out against the establishment, but the PML-N ditching Fazal at the last moment came as a surprise. It is the PML-N that has suffered the worst kind of crackdown against its leadership and whose supremo Nawaz Sharif is fighting for his life after being diagnosed with an immune disorder while in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau. Fazal, aimed to sweep Imran Khan and his backers from the political horizon, has been left on his own, and he now needs a face-saving way to end his sit-in. However, Fazal’s massive protest has already weakened both the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and its backers. He is directly accusing the mighty establishment of rigging last year’s general elections and accusing the military of becoming a political entity by backing Khan and undermining the opposition.

The question is why Fazal, who once was a blue-eyed boy of the establishment, has now turned his guns against his old ally. Being a shrewd politician, he knew that first Nawaz Sharif and then his daughter Maryam Nawaz had successfully weakened the narrative of the establishment, especially Maryam, who showed unprecedented courage. So Fazal now is cashing in on the hard work done by Maryam and as a result is gaining popularity despite his extremist religious views. On the other hand Maryam’s own party is mending fences with the establishment and trying its best to present itself as a substitute for Khan’s regime – one that is not able to govern the country properly.

This has been the tragedy of Pakistan’s political elite, that whenever they come close to knocking the military out of the game they instead look for its backing to maintain the status quo

So right now every political party instead of trying to gain the support of the masses is trying to win the support of the establishment so as to get a place on the power chessboard. This has been the tragedy of Pakistan’s political elite, that whenever they come close to knocking the military out of the game they instead look for its backing to maintain the status quo.

It was Maryam who challenged the hegemony of the establishment in state affairs and backed her father Nawaz. She valiantly fought not only for her father, who was dethroned by controversial judicial decisions, but also laid the foundation of the civilian-supremacy narrative in Punjab. She pulled in even larger crowds than her father at her public rallies before being arrested by the PTI government, as Imran Khan and his backers knew that she could turn the tables on them. She single-handedly fought for her father’s survival and for the narrative of civilian supremacy, but her party, the PML-N, was not capable of bearing the weight of her anti-establishment style of politics.

Maryam these days has been silenced as after being released on bail in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case, she is looking after her ailing father, and the way events are taking shape in Pakistan it seems that her party has made peace with the establishment and that she, for now, will not be active in politics.

Fazal is now gaining space by filling the vacuum in anti-establishment politics. He remains acceptable to the establishment as unlike Maryam, he can at any time make a compromise with it. The establishment and Khan both have survived Fazal’s onslaught as the PML-N ditched him. Perhaps history will remember how one fearless woman single-handedly brought the powerful establishment to the verge of a defeat but her own party denied her the victory.

She belongs in the ranks of the late human-rights advocate Asma Jahangir who can go to any extent to get the desired results. While Pakistani politics is full of opportunists and power-hungry politicians, Maryam Nawaz stood alone by refusing to surrender and by not accepting anything less then the supremacy of the vote. Her party may have compromised and missed a historic opportunity to outplay the establishment, but her resilience will long be remembered. Perhaps she belonged to the wrong party, which did not deserve her, as it could  not match her defiance, courage and will to fight against all the odds.

For now, Pakistan will remain under the invisible rule of the deep state and democracy will remain a dream for many. But Maryam herself, despite finishing at the losing end because of her own party’s surrender, at least has given hope to coming generations that if one has the will and a good team, the establishment can be defeated on the power chessboard.

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