FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 3

Over to Shehabz now

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has changed its narrative after the party president, Shehbaz Sharif, has started calling the shots. The party changed its slogan, “respect the vote” to “vote for development works” in the recently held Cantonment Boards elections. However, it is believed that the situation will not change for the party, as it aims for personal benefits for the Sharif family while keeping the doors of confrontation and reconciliation open.

According to media reports, Shehbaz Sharif sidelined his elder brother’s group in the party’s campaign for Cantonment Boards elections. It is said that he had convinced Nawaz Sharif to allow him to win the election in the Cantonment Boards where voters have a strong love for the military leadership and they dislike the PML-N’s anti-establishment narrative. He also barred the Maryam Nawaz group from attending the party meetings. As a result, it stayed away from the election campaign. Instead, Shehbaz Sharif’s group led the electioneering.

It is believed that ex-senator Pervez Rashid, who is the mentor of Maryam Nawaz, has distanced himself from the party affairs after the increasing clout of Shehbaz, who is not comfortable with those who are considered close to Maryam and have been pushing an anti-establishment narrative. According to media reports, the Maryam group was also sidelined in the process of preparation of the PML-N’s “white paper” against the Punjab government’s three-year term.

Shehbaz Sharif is known for his reconciliation policy towards national institutions while Nawaz Sharif and his daughter target them. The narratives look different but their prime aim is the same. They want maximum relief for themselves and each other. However, the “contrasting narratives” have failed to bring them much relief. Shehbaz Sharif faces serious cases of corruption and money laundering, though he has been released on bail. His release on bail triggered rumours of his narrative working but it fizzled out when he was not allowed to leave the country, though he made a serious attempt to flee overnight.

It is clear that Nawaz Sharif and his group in Pakistan, led by Maryam Nawaz, want to move forward with its narrative, to attack national institutions to get maximum relief in court cases. On the other hand, the Shehbaz Sharif faction aims at reconciliation and dialogue, and focuses on winning the 2023 general elections. Some analysts fear the party may disintegrate if Nawaz Sharif continues his narrative. Sources in the party told a news channel that senior leaders want Nawaz Sharif to give a free hand to Shehbaz to hold dialogue with institutions.

According to analysts, Shehbaz’s supporters believe that Maryam does not understand practical politics, and he must be allowed to lead the party and settle issues with institutions. Talking to a news channel, Maryam also admitted that there was a difference of opinion in the party over the narrative. However, she said she was following the narrative of Nawaz Sharif which would prevail.

Some senior members are worried about the party’s future, especially its performance in the next election. They point out that the PPP is creating space for itself in the political field by getting closer to “powerful” quarters. They are also worried about the fact that the PPP is planning to increase its influence outside Sindh and setting sights on forming a government in the Centre, while the PML-N, which enjoys huge support in the largest province of Pakistan, is heading into a blind alley. They also fear that if the situation does not change in the coming months, many electables of the party will join other parties to secure their political future.

The defeat in the Azad Kashmir polls was not as shocking for the party as was in the Sialkot by-polls. The PTI clinched the PP-38, Sialkot IV, seat by defeating the PML-N, by a fair margin. It was a significant development in all respects. It was a PML-N stronghold and a safe seat for the party and its candidate whose family has dominated politics in the area. The party had defeated the PTI in National Assembly by-elections in Daska a few months ago. The defeat shows the PML-N’s “different” narratives are losing steam and the party may not be able to win more than a few dozen seats in the next election. It is clear that no narrative has worked for the Sharifs and they have been left with the only option to hand over the party leadership to genuine workers and quit politics. It is the only way to save the party from disintegration.

It is a fact that the Sharif brothers are playing Jekyll and Hyde to save each other. As Nawaz Sharif and his camp savage the establishment and the judiciary, Shehbaz Sharif pretends to oppose them. However, their “good cop, bad cop policy” has not proved much fruitful, though Shehbaz and his son secured bails in serious money-laundering and corruption cases, while Nawaz Sharif was allowed to leave abroad.

Some analysts claim that the powers that be do not want a party, which they have promoted and nurtured for over three decades, to fade away and they have chosen Shehbaz to head it as he is more flexible than his elder brother and much closer to them. It is why he has survived Model Town and other serious cases, they argue.