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regular-article-logo Friday, 14 June 2024

Promising hour

Now that Nawaz Sharif is back and elections are set to take place within the next few months, some political analysts believe that it will be smooth-sailing for the PML(N) leader

Mehmal Sarfraz Published 01.11.23, 07:00 AM
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, center with his daughter Maryam Nawaz, left, wave to his supporters upon his arrival to address a welcoming rally, in Lahore.

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, center with his daughter Maryam Nawaz, left, wave to his supporters upon his arrival to address a welcoming rally, in Lahore. Sourced by the Telegraph

The former prime minister of Pakistan and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) supremo, Nawaz Sharif, is back in the country after almost four years. Sharif left for London in November 2019 after getting interim bail on medical grounds. He was later given a one-time permission by the then Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government to travel abroad for his medical treatment. However, he decided not to return till October 21 this year. He did not return when the PTI was in power; he did not return even when his younger brother, Shehbaz, formed the government in April 2022 after a successful vote of no-confidence against the former prime minister, Imran Khan; he did not return while the previous Chief Justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial, was heading the Supreme Court. He only returned when things looked ‘promising’ from his point of view.

During these four years, we had heard from his party members on several occasions that he will return once his medical treatment is completed. But many political observers had pointed out that Sharif will come back to Pakistan once he is certain that he will not be hounded by the executive and the military and judicial establishments. It is only after the culmination of the following events — Imran Khan is out of power and is behind bars, the PTI is dismantled, Bandial has retired, and the PML(N) leader has been given protective bail — that Sharif finally decided to return to Pakistan. On October 21, he was welcomed back by his party and his supporters in a grand show of power at the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore. Sharif’s speech was chiefly about his political victimisation, how he lost his wife and mother while he was fighting his political battles, how he does not seek revenge, and how he only wants economic upliftment and the betterment of the people of Pakistan. It was an emotional speech; but, at the same time, it was a speech that catered to his audience, his voters, and his supporters.

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However, there were some glaring omissions in his speech. He did not acknowledge that the Pakistan Democratic Movement government led by his brother has brought the country on the verge of default, inflation has skyrocketed in the 16 months of PDM rule, how tough it has been for the people of Pakistan to survive, how his hand-picked finance minister, Ishaq Dar, has mismanaged the economy, and how the country is still uncertain about the next elections. Many pointed out these glaring omissions but also said that Sharif did not want to take ownership of the failures of a government that he is not part of directly. They say that Sharif only reminisced about the economy and how well it was doing when he was in power. His party members say that he is the most experienced mainstream leader — Sharif has been in politics since the 1980s — but they also point out how he was not allowed to contest the elections in 2002, 2008 and 2018. His lifetime disqualification has still not been overturned. But they are hopeful that it will be overturned soon and he will be the PML(N)’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2024 elections. The elections were to take place in November 2023 as per the Constitution. But they have been delayed because the Election Commission of Pakistan has undertaken the process of delimitation. Reports indicate that the polls will take place at the end of January 2024. Some still have doubts. These doubts will be put to rest once the ECP announces the dates of the polls. Many say that it will announce the dates because the Supreme Court will be hearing the case regarding the general elections tomorrow.

Now that Sharif is back and elections are set to take place within the next few months, some political analysts believe that it will be smooth-sailing for the PML(N) leader. But there is another issue: Imran Khan is in jail, his party is in disarray, but his popularity is still intact. Some say that when the country goes to the polls, PTI voters will still vote for their own party while others believe that it has been ‘decided’ that Imran Khan will not be back in power. This ‘decision’ is being questioned and people are asking if we will witness, once again, what we did in 2018 when Imran Khan was selected but not elected.

The Pakistan People’s Party has been quite vocal about Sharif’s selection being on the cards and that this will lead to an election that will not be credible. Many are wondering whether such an anointment would be acceptable to Sharif. But his supporters insist that it would be a victory of sorts for him to be able to return as prime minister after having been kicked out of and written off from the political system. They say that he believes it is not his fault that ‘Project Imran’ was launched to get rid of him and that those who launched this project will now take care of it. Unfortunately, it seems that the cycle is being repeated once again. However, there is speculation that the way that the entire system — the Establishment, judiciary, media, political parties — was turned upside down to bring Imran Khan to power implies that the system will now remain ‘hybrid’ for some time before there is any hope of bringing it back to where Sharif left it in 2017. This hybrid system is a gift from those who wanted to see Imran Khan in power by hook or by crook. The same system is now being used to bring him and his party down. This is far from an ideal situation. In these dire times, it would be important for all political stakeholders to initiate a dialogue. Yesterday, it was Imran who didn’t want to talk to his opponents — many say that it is his stubbornness that has got Pakistan to this point — but today, it is the other way round. Someone has to make the next move. Someone has to rise above the differences. It can be Sharif. It should be Sharif, a politician who has experience on his side. He should not let this chance go.

Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore; mehmal.s@gmail.com

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