ISLAMABAD - About to make history on his way to become third-time prime minister of the country, Nawaz Sharif seemed too serious, focused and sometimes indulged in deep thoughts as he sat on one of the front seats in the National Assembly. The Lion from Lahore didn’t roar or smile unnecessarily, perhaps, he has come of age. Beside him lay vacant the seat of leader of the house he is to occupy on 5th of this month.

Saturday’s entry of the two-time premier was more historic than heroic in nature. Jail and exile were surprise additions to his happy-go-lucky personality. But compared to his last stint, he looked more humble and determined, knowing well the challenges ahead are far greater as compared to the past.

Unlike traditional politicians of this part of the world, he had not gone through such hardships until the fateful October 1999 military coup by his handpicked general, the then all powerful military ruler, reduced to a minion under house arrest, a few kilometers from the Parliament building. Around 13 years of absence from the power corridors of Islamabad, perhaps, brought some surprise, yet welcome changes in Nawaz Sharif’s approach towards governance matters and, more importantly, choice of political allies. At that time, a right wing politician in him preferred the religio-political outfits as natural allies.

A sea of changes has occurred now. Baloch and Pashtun nationalist leaders eagerly kept on thronging his Raiwind Lahore residence to meet and consult him during the last five years, and he remained all ears to them. Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Hasil Bazenjo, Dr Abdul Malik and, for that matter, Bugtis, Marris and Mangels see a trusted friend and political ally in Nawaz Sharif – a status enjoyed by PPP under Bhuttos in yesteryears. On Saturday, too, he walked from the hall towards the Parliament lobby, accompanied by Mahmood Khan Achakzai. They were immediately into deep consultation over Balochistan coalition governance issue.

With matters of governance at the Centre occupying Sharif’s mind for the last many days, the issue still boggling his mind is to bring in a workable political setup in the troubled province of Balochistan. Zehari and Marri Sardars are not ready to concede an inch from their claim of chief executive of the province. The Sardars find it difficult to work under a middle class man like Dr Abdul Malik. On the face of it, they, along with Pashtun and Baloch nationalists, have empowered PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif to take a final decision in this regard. But maneuvering and arm-twisting by the egoistic Sardars continues unabated. Keeping in view uneasiness in the party ranks, the elderly former premier Zafarullah Jamali has reportedly advised the incoming premier to divide the tenure of chief minister between Zehri and Changez Marri giving two and a half years to each. He has also advised him to give Balochistan Assembly’s speakership and governorship to any of the Baloch or Pashtun nationalists. On his part, Sharif, like many saner elements of Balochistan, knows well that solution to the Balochistan insurgency lies with empowering nationalist Baloch leaders with the driving seat so that they can persuade the arms wielding fellows to come to negotiations with the political setup aided by military establishment – supportive of talks at the moment.

The third time premier to-be doesn’t want to lose this chance. He knows well a drastic improvement in largely corrupt political and bureaucratic setup in that province is the only way out. Elevation of Jharawan chieftain or son of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Murri won’t bring about the changes required.

Faced with limited choices at his disposal, the incoming premier, however, didn’t opt for conventional decision making to bring in the National Assembly speaker from a smaller province. Mahmood Khan Achakzai, the Pashtun nationalist leader from Balochistan, a fierce critic of establishment (military) of the country, was not convinced he was cut out to be the National Assembly speaker. Similarly, health reasons barred Mir Zafarullah Jamali, a former premier, to opt for the office that comes fourth in state protocol after president, prime minister and Senate chairman. Jamail, who preferred PML-N even after returning independent from his hometown constituency, reportedly refused with thanks, saying his physical condition didn’t allow him to carry out this most responsible and hectic job of custodian of the lower house of the Parliament. He is, however, eager to become chairman of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee or Kashmir Committee, provided it remains safe from the tactful clutches of Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the party’s second in-command in the National Assembly for all practical purposes, also didn’t accept the offer to become speaker. In the pre-election scenario, he was indirectly conveyed that Punjab’s CM slot as well as foreign ministry is a no-go area for him for the obvious reasons.

Then came with bang the decision to elevate Sardar Ayaz Sadiq – the man who defeated Imran Khan from a Lahore constituency  – brought in criticism not only from within the rank and file of his party, but from across the country. Though he had a valid point, Nisar’s opposition was brushed aside. Rest of them kept mum, knowing well that opposition won’t be music to the ears of the party supreme and can dampen anyone’s chance to secure coveted ministerial slots.

Close circles around Sharifs knew well the kind of fondness a loyal and well-reputed Ayaz Sadiq has carved out for himself with Sahrifs as soon as he defeated Tahreek-e-Insaf Chief Imran Khan. Imran’s defeat in the heartland of Sharifs’ fort was the best political gift a well-reputed man like Ayaz Sadiq could fetch for his party bosses – a task Hanif Abbasi from Rawalipndi failed to accomplish mainly because of his repute in the area.

As Ayaz rejoiced in his elevation, many tend to think of it an action replay of the last tenure when armed with a two thirds majority, Nawaz Sharif became premier, younger brother Shahbaz Sharif was elevated as the Punjab chief minister and soon they brought in Rafiq Tarar who also hailed from Punjab. That was 2007 and PML-N enjoyed a thumping majority at the Centre and had secured all the four provincial governments, by hook or crook.

Better sense and mature decisions are expected from the incoming premier as he grabs the hot seat. Nominee for the top constitutional office of president of the state will surely be a litmus test in near future as Zardari bows out in September. Until then, Mamnoon Hussain and Ghaus Ali Shah from Sindh and Sartaj Aziz from KPK can keep their fingers crossed. Enough of Punjab and Lahore Mian Sahib. You are a national leader.