THE process is ongoing. The signs that the PML-N has found a formula to survive in its old mould may turn out to be false. Neither of the two sides to the party shows any inclination to give up as yet. The ‘struggle’ for supremacy is by no means over.
A few days ago, a grand gathering in London appeared to have sorted out the issue. The PML-N leadership that had collected for the meeting at Mian Nawaz Sharif’s instance appeared to have found some kind of a formula to settle the matter of who was to spearhead the party’s politics. Or at least this was the impression created by the reporting on the event.
It was said that, finally, Mian Sahib had intervened on behalf of his younger brother and that Mr Shahbaz Sharif had been declared the consensus candidate to lead PML-N endeavours in the arena of harsh power politics in Pakistan. Some accounts of the meeting went as far as to say that Ms Maryam Nawaz, leading the ‘opposite’ plank within the party, had been asked to maintain her silence on all crucial issues related to the PML-N and its politics, with similar directions given to Mr Hamza Shahbaz.
What are Nawaz Sharif’s own preferences? Does he favour Shahbaz Sharif or Maryam Nawaz?
The gag order — if one was ever served on Ms Maryam — was soon defied. The disqualified prime minister’s dissatisfied daughter spoke out loudly for her right to an opinion in a television interview midway through the week — hours before her father was to arrive in the country to face a court case against him.
There were few indications that the angry lady in any way wished to dilute her expression. She was ready to say it all, denying that she had been asked to not discuss politics, and instead trying to separate opinion, which she was entitled to, from policy, which she granted was a prerogative which lay with her father and uncle Mr Shahbaz Sharif.
It can be argued that this particular opinion, expressed quite frankly, brought matters to the same point they stood at before the latest London declaration in the history of Pakistan politics. Or do we see a slight change here from before, now that— according to unconfirmed reports — Ms Maryam doesn’t enjoy the same kind of backing from her father as she had done until now? This question will ultimately lead to other more complicated questions and assessments: about the circumstances in which the two distinct parallels which now exist so strongly in the PML-N were born.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, it was not a Nawaz-specific onslaught that the PML-N was faced with. It was seen as a broader strike which was aimed at not just one individual but that sought to sweep away the entire leadership, including Mr Shahbaz Sharif. There was little to suggest initially that some kind of a compromise could be reached according to which Mr Shahbaz could be allowed to act as a worthy and acceptable replacement for Mr Nawaz at the top of the PML-N powerhouse. That the ideal has not been given up can be seen in the context of Imran Khan’s recent warnings that he will not allow the functioning of any government born of an NRO — a reference to the national reconciliation order that opened the door for ‘real’ democracy in Gen Musharraf’s times.
It is quite obvious that the target of the PTI’s aggressive campaign is Mr Shahbaz Sharif, Mr Nawaz already striving to wriggle out of the legal web weaved around him. This campaign against any NRO is going to pick up pace in the coming days and this is a reality which should preclude any plans of deactivating the Maryam Nawaz or Nawaz Sharif faction within the PML-N.
There is a very real chance that the PML-N plank which is all for making up and proceeding moderately might not get what it is hoping for. There could be a variety of reasons leading to this possible outcome. It could be said that the PML-N had left it far too late, and in that event the blame may be heaped on the Maryam front for practising a dangerous brand of antagonistic politics. But whatever the case, politicians would find it tough to deny that the faction could prove extremely useful if some kind of arrangement that facilitates Mr Shahbaz Sharif’s free reintroduction into power corridors cannot be made.
The theory does eventually ask questions about Mr Nawaz Sharif’s own preferences: which side he is on? Does he favour Mr Shahbaz Sharif or Ms Maryam Nawaz? Once again, whereas it may be reiterated that agreeing to a compromise which allowed his brother to take over from him was never really thought to be beyond Mian Sahib, at this point in time it is in his own interest — and that of the party and the family by and large — to not outright ditch one faction. It is imperative that the two planks continue until such time that one of them is made absolutely redundant.
Silencing the voice of Ms Maryam Nawaz until and unless the writing on the wall is clear regarding the restored efficacy of Mr Shahbaz Sharif in the country’s politics will serve no purpose. Considerable energy and quite a lot of sentiment have been invested in building up this voice. The operation cannot be wrapped up suddenly without allowing it to realise its goal. In the long run as well, it will be to the advantage of the PML-N to not give up the idea of having a powerful plank ready for any future eventuality. By all calculations, whatever some of her uncles might say about her adventurous ways, Ms Maryam Nawaz could well get a prolonged role to play here.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.