For a moment, let’s assume (quite safely now) that there shall be no martial laws coming our way (ever). Also that Nawaz Sharif, to use Ayaz Amir’s terminology, would not prove to be his own suicide bomber unlike his past misadventures. Let’s assume also that men in uniform shall be satiated by the National Security Adviser slot. So halfway through the tenure of the current government comfortably saddled in place, as we head towards the next general elections in 2018, let’s ponder a little over the question of who is likely to become the next Prime Minister as things stand today. Let’s break it down party-wise.

From Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf’s side, it is not clear if it is going to make its way into other provinces than the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, since the two phases of Local Government elections in Punjab and Sindh have shown no encouraging signs. However, what is clear as crystal is that the candidate from its side shall be none other than Imran Khan, the party chief himself. It can be said more comfortably now because PTI and Khan himself is done with the other strong, could-be contender for the PM’s seat – the ambitious Reham Khan.

On a serious note, PTI has made its ambitions for the slot of Prime Minister next time quite obviously crystal clear. His desire for making it to the center is visible in Khan’s hustle and bustle in KP in order to bring his provincial government a good name. He does not seem to be deterred by PTI’s failure in Punjab and Sindh in local government elections and has kept his focus mostly on governance in KP. Attention towards the KP police, tree plantation and hospitals top the agenda these days. We saw that in the recent election for the speaker of the National Assembly, PTI nominated its own candidate claiming to be the real opposition in the central legislature.

If everything falls in place, Khan would likely contend for the slot of the PM in the next general elections. However, getting allies on his side would be an uphill task because his enormous ego, due to which he has dismissed MQM, Fazl-ur-Rehman and everyone else too much to mend ways now.

Another hurdle for PTI would be for Khan to keep his house in order in Punjab – crucial for rule in the center. Choosing between Jahangir Tareen and Hamid Khan is not so difficult, but a choice between Chaudhry Sarwar and Shah Mehmood Qureshi is a difficult one. Keeping them all together and proportionally obliged is the key to keep the party from infighting.

Who will be PML-N’s candidate for the coveted slot in 2018 is the million-dollar question. Can the Sharifs, while they are alive, let any non-Sharif become the Prime Minister from PMLN’s side? Let’s break things down a little within the PMLN. Let’s assume that we don’t have a merit because we really don’t have it.  A little prediction never harmed anyone.

The next Prime Minister will come from today’s ruling PML-N or, at the least, with its blessings.

What is important to realize is that PML-N can capitalize on its current popularity with masses only if it runs an extra mile with its efforts towards putting the genie of load-shedding in the bottle in time.

Another important aspect is the resurgence of civil-military tensions, lately. Nawaz Sharif has made peace with the men in uniform leading at the foreign policy and security fronts. The strong tide of the messiah-like figure of the army chief is wearing off or maybe we just think so because we are getting used to our almost terror-free-country now. Nevertheless, the patient’s history tells us that the Sharif often shoots himself in the foot. In this regard, he has to play safe and identify where not to go because no civilian administration ever won a civil-military turf war.

Let’s get done with the democracy and civilian dispensation going nowhere for sure and come back to the PML-N’s hunt for the next Prime Minister. Hamza Shahbaz Sharif? Chaudhry Nisar? Even Maryam Nawaz Sharif now? Any clue?

A complete disregard to Chaudhry Nisar and his say within the party ranks shall be a costly misadventure for PML-N in 2018. Nawaz Sharif cannot afford to make him angry again. He even has offers from his Aitchisonian friend from PTI. PML-N cannot mistake him for the likes of Amin Fahim who was comfortably sidelined by the Peoples’ Party. He will not settle for anything less than a lion’s share next time. Remember he is already a key federal minister in the current PML-N government comfortably riding the horse of popularity. He is the one above it all.

With this background in mind, let’s expect some infighting within the ranks of PMLN a year or so later. Ideally, the Sharifs would want to replace themselves with their own progeny in Punjab and the center, with Hamza replacing his father and Maryam replacing hers or some other brand of dynastic politics akin to it. Remember, we did not have merit, right?

In any event, things do not look to be too hunky dory for the PML-N in 2018. Maryam’s debut at the White House meet with Michelle Obama raised many eyebrows and raised concerns of many within the party. These concerns should lead towards grievances and later on infighting. That would be a spectacle. (Due to a lack of space, let’s leave the part on other political parties to the next piece)