Prime Minister Imran Khan's government has been accused of wanting to devastate his rivals running Sindh state. Photo: AFP / Muhammad Reza / Anadolu
Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan. Photo: AFP / Muhammad Reza / Anadolu

When the architects of Naya Pakistan were busy engineering the political discourse to lay the foundation of their “Project Imran Khan,” little did they know that they actually were giving a new lease on life to Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Ever since Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) assumed power, uncertainty among investors and businesspeople, as well as political turmoil, has been increasing at an alarming rate. The plan to make Khan a political brand through vicious propaganda by using media and the people like ex-chief justice Saqib Nisar failed miserably, as none of these players had enough credibility to oust Sharif and his party from politics.

So right now when the PTI regime is faced with economic crisis and misgovernance on the domestic front, and on the diplomatic front Pakistan is again being put on the gray list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Prime Minister Khan is trying to hold journalists and media responsible for his lack of vision and inability to govern the country both on domestic and foreign fronts.

In a recent statement, Khan said the media were conspiring against him. This reflects the mentality of Khan and his party. Their problem is that instead of rectifying their mistakes they are focused on searching for scapegoats for their failures.

Right now the regime has two scapegoats, the media and Maryam Nawaz. Khan often forgets that had the controlled TV news channels and pro-establishment anchors and journalists not supported him around the clock and projected Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari as the villains, Khan would still be in opposition, with only his cult vote bank listening to him.

So, in short, it was that segment of the media that presented Imran Khan as an angel and a person of supernatural abilities who was supposed to solve every single problem of the country. There is no doubt that a large section of the press supported him and undermined the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), but if Khan had even a little political acumen he could have understood that propaganda can bring someone to power but it cannot keep him there unless he has the ability and capacity to govern the country.

With the exception of a few dissident journalists and two or three media houses, the majority of the media community is still siding with Khan, but his inability to accept criticism and his wish to rule the country like an Arab monarch is making him believe that he is a saint and that everyone who disagrees is his enemy.

Khan and his team also still hold Sharif’s government responsible for the problems Pakistan is facing. This propaganda is not working, however, as even a layman in downtown areas of any city or village can tell you that this formula of blaming Sharif for every woe Pakistan is facing has lost its meaning, and no one outside Khan’s fan club is ready to believe this.

On the other hand, Sharif is out of the country, and his daughter Maryam Nawaz is tactically remaining silent. This means that Khan has no one in the opposition to blame for his own failures. 

Khan also knows that Maryam’s silence is not the end of the story, as the ongoing negotiations between the invisible forces and Nawaz Sharif are not over yet. At the moment Sharif wants Maryam to be with him in London, and until then the invisible forces cannot negotiate further with the PML-N, as Sharif is furious that she has not been allowed to fly to Britain to be with him. 

So right now Sharif is holding his nerve and trying to buy time as he knows that the military establishment, with the economy in turmoil and after the Kashmir fiasco, is not in a position to get out of this self-created Catch-22 situation. Sharif perhaps wants the establishment to suffer more at the hands of the incompetent and visionless Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The establishment is willing to send Maryam to London, but only with a guarantee that she will not take any active role in politics for a mutually agreed period. Meanwhile Khan is still reluctant to let her go to London at the behest of the invisible forces, though it is the establishment, not the prime minister, who will ultimately decide if she can go or not.

Maryam might be leaving Pakistan very soon, as her father is scheduled for heart surgery this coming Monday. So if she does leave, the question will remain over what will happen to the PML-N and how easy it will be for Khan or the invisible forces to manage the leaderless party. Up to now PML-N has shown unprecedented defiance, and despite the efforts of the invisible forces and Khan, nether has it divided into factions nor are a majority of its members of parliament ready to leave the party despite having reservations over Sharif’s aggressive narrative against the powers that be.

Even if Maryam leaves at this juncture, she has successfully created a cult following, and besides Nawaz Sharif himself, she remains the only PML-N leader who is widely respected and seen as a future party supremo by the majority of its youth and urban vote bank.

Though a faction within the PML-N may want to see the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz, as the next head of the party, a leader without a cult following can never guarantee an electoral win even if he or she has the backing of the invisible forces. That is how the constituency-based electoral politics work in Pakistan, where the traditional power-hungry small groups and politicians love to join a party whose leader has a cult vote bank.

So even if the establishment manages to persuade Nawaz Sharif to keep Maryam out of politics for a certain period, it will not dent her personal vote bank. Maryam was nurtured and trained by her late mother Kasloom Nawaz and her father Nawaz Sharif, so she has the grit to manage the PML-N and she knows the art of power politics.

This is the reason that whether Maryam will be allowed to leave the country or not has become one of the most debated issues in Pakistan. Being a smart politician, Maryam will be happy that she is being discussed, as even her detractors who are trying to assassinate her character are unconsciously helping her not only to remain relevant in the political arena but their criticism creates a soft corner for her among the PML-N vote bank.

Many can argue that Sharif working on a possible deal with establishment or Maryam leaving the country is contrary to the ideal or anti-establishment politics, but the truth of the matter is that in Pakistan, where the power chessboard is controlled by the invisible forces and where every other journalist or intellectual is a tout of the invisible forces or the current regime, the practical way to survive in the power corridors is to make sensible moves by sometimes going on to the back foot.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto both gave their lives for their narratives of democratic supremacy, but even so the balance of power never tilted in favor of elected governments. So Maryam is doing the wise thing by not provoking the mighty establishment with her usual tweets and fierce speeches through public gatherings.

So her silence is not only helping her party to negotiate with the powers that be for the time being, but it has also deprived Imran Khan of the opportunity to thrive on the politics of hatred by depicting her as a traitor for her anti-establishment tweets and speeches. And perhaps Khan understands the language of silence, as it is a clear sign that she is gearing up for the next move very soon. 

It is Imran Khan’s around-the-clock blame game and propaganda versus the silence of Maryam in a power game where she can outsmart him and his backers if she plays her cards well.