Pakistan’s Establishment’s plan to place the PML N led by Nawaz Sharif with a Minus One formula in the offing may create a situation of continued crisis of instability in Pakistan, here is why-
On October 21, former Prime Minister and Supremo of the just wound up administrations leading party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) landed from exile in Pakistan for the second time in his political career.
Provided a temporary bail by Islamabad High Court in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia cases until October 24, which is seen as facilitated by the Pakistan Establishment – the Deep State that holds the political reins in the country, Sharif held a rousing rally in Lahore the political citadel of the PML N as the jaded leaders of the Party claimed that he has returned to pull Pakistan from the brink of economic disaster to prosperity.
In fact, the PML N had a good opportunity to demonstrate its economic efficiency as it held the Finance Minister’s portfolio in the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government which was dissolved to hold elections.
But these months were wasted to place Nawaz’s right-hand man and former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, a close relative, in the Finance Minister’s post. Dar delayed negotiations and a final deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which only acceded to a bail-out package on June 30th, the last day for a deal before Pakistan defaulted primarily due to the efforts of then Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
It was brother Shahbaz Sharif who had to rush back to London just 48 hours after landing from a meeting with Nawaz, to indicate to the latter that his threat of revenge against former Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and then ISI Chief Faez Hamid had completely upset the Pakistan Army which may stall his return. Quietly, Nawaz reset his agenda from revenge to economic recovery, bowing to the military's wishes.
For the PML N, the return of Nawaz was expected to be the magic wand for the revival of the Party, which has lost much of the public appeal in Punjab. But the young electorate some 21 million have been added since the last post is looking for fresh blood, different from the same old formula pandered by Nawaz and his coterie comprising of his close family members from daughter Maryam Nawaz to brother Shahbaz and others.
Maryam who fancied herself as the Benazir Bhutto of the PML N has failed to garner public imagination given the changed dynamics of today where social media and other means which were deftly exploited by former Prime Minister Imran Khan are required to win support of the large youthful electorate of Punjab who are also dissatisfied with continued dabbling of the military in polity witness the ill famous May 09 riots.
Combined with the economic challenges the public is facing across the country, PML N led by Nawaz may find it difficult to win over the electorate despite delaying the elections by four months [hopefully in February]. Moreover over Nawaz has taken a major risk as cases against him, the Avenfield and Al Azizia continue and he could well end up in jail, or perhaps thats the point for the former prime minister to rally the public claiming victimhood.
Of course, Nawaz and his coterie believe that just like he did in 2007 after then Gen Pervez Musharraf who had sent him packing to Saudi Arabia was deposed by a successful campaign by the lawyers lobby and the Supreme Court, the elder Sharif will be able to revive the fortunes of the Party.
However, the political ground in Punjab and the rest of Pakistan, except perhaps Sindh, may have changed with the popularity of the Pakistan Tehreef Insaaf [PTI], giving the people a glimpse of what a defiant Imran Khan could do to shake up the Establishment.
While that soon appeared to be a mirage, as the Empire, so to say, struck back, and Khan is now in jail facing multiple charges, he fired the political imagination of the mass's aspirations, which has led to a shift in the ground for the PML to return to the pole position in Punjab.
His comeback speech on October 21 in Lahore did not provide any new hope for the people at large but for regurgitating old cliches and claiming to be a victim of conspiracies and revenge very obliquely. Suffice to say that he did not seek revenge he has made up with the Army.
With a diminished PTI and Imran Khan disqualified and jailed, ruling out a major role to play in the forthcoming hustings, the Establishment may be paving the way for PML N’s return.
A Minus One formula could be the hidden agenda ensuring that while Nawaz may rally the PML N, he does not again become a Prime Minister. The court cases against him may be used to strangle his aspirations.
Brother Shahbaz is acceptable to the Army and may be pitched for the Prime Minister’s post provided no other party or a leader emerges with the Pakistan People’s Party also in the wings. Suffice it to say Nawaz may continue to call the shots, leaving the more efficient administrator, Shahbaz Sharif, in shackles as he was in the last 16 months of the PDM rule.
Regurgitating the same formula in case the PML N comes to power on its own or in a coalition will not work for Pakistan given the major challenges that the nation is facing on all fronts from the economic to internal security.
Alas! With no leader standing out amongst the crowd in the country and given the constraints that such a leader may face from the Establishment, it appears that with or without Nawaz, Pakistan is doomed towards a path of greater instability.