FAROOQ HAMEED KHAN The Pindiites have spoken. In a highly charged political duel, that became the focus of countrys attention, the PML-N smashed Sheikh Rashids dreams of returning to the Parliament. If Pakistani politics is the art of compromising on principles, this certainly was evident during Sheikh Rashids election campaign. As a diehard lifetime political opponent and fiery critic of the Pakistan Peo-ples Party, the presence of the 'party flags in Sheikhs Liaqat Bagh meeting must have not only shocked his own supporters, but also the hardcore PPP loyalists as well. It was Sheikhs biggest political blunder when he accepted the PPPs support, or to put it more aptly, the presidencys and Punjab governors patronage in this by-election. At a time when the ruling partys popularity and image has plunged to its lowest, this support proved more of a liability than an asset. He, therefore, paid a heavy price for this unnatural relationship. The NA-55 results reflected a public mood and mindset that were seemingly not prepared to forget Sheikh Rashids close association of many years with General (retd) Musharraf and his rule, which saw the Lal Masjid, judiciary and the NRO crisis. The ghost of Lal Masjid, in particular, continued to haunt Lal Haveli with the PML-N cashing on the Lal Masjid theme. Similarly, Musharrafs endorsement from abroad, too, served to add to the Sheikhs loss of public support. The general, who harbours ambitions to return to power through the political process, may read the writing on the wall after the failed comeback of his ardent supporter. Furthermore, PPP and PM-L-N enjoy a unique love-hate relationship that has influenced the countrys political scene. Currently, as the PPP controlled NAB reopened Nawaz Sharif and his familys mega corruption cases in Rawa-lpindi's Accountability Courts, Mian Sahib vows to bring back the billions of looted wealth from the Swiss banks. While the two major parties remain coalition partners in Punjab, yet in the Rawalpindi by-election they fought a proxy political match - the PPP 'running with the hare and hunting with the hound. But as the PML-N basks in the NA-55 glory, is the dust being removed from the many Musharraf era files against Mian Brothers that lie 'dormant in NAB Punjab? Embarrassed by the stinging defeat in the recently held Mansehra by-election, a repeat performance in NA-55 would have spelt political disaster for the PML-N. No wonder, Mian Nawaz Sharif and the entire PML-Ns top brass rushed to the aid of their otherwise relatively low profile but committed candidate. Without the party leaderships aggressive campaigning, he could have found the going rather difficult against a much more experienced Sheikh Sahib. What is really heartening is that NA-55 has sent to Parliament a committed and humble middle class PML-N party worker, who lives in an eight marla house and does not own a car. A party dominated by the rich and affluent class, the PML-N learnt its Mansehra lesson and has set a new trend. While the election process was by and large free and fair, devoid of institutionalised rigging, the PML-N candidate did enjoy a psychological advantage over his rivals. With his party in power in the province, the provincial/local administration, if not found interfering in the Election Commissions working, provided strong moral support. NA-55 was more about egos than issues affecting the constituency. For Sheikh Rashid, a veteran of many past victories and a humiliating 2008 electoral defeat, this election meant a 'do or die situation with his political survival at stake. For the PML-N, a defeat at the hands of a presidency/Musharraf/Punjab governor backed candidate was simply unthinkable. In macro terms, what will the generally neglected Rawalpindi gain from the election results? Will the PML-N government sincerely initiate new development projects including better healthcare, clean water and education for the welfare of the underprivileged, downtown Pi-ndiites? Will the multi-billion Leh Expressway mega project, inaugurated by Sheikh Rashid but on hold since return to democratic rule, see the light of the day? Will Rawalpindis problem of its ever choked Murree Road, which serves as the citys main artery, be resolved on a long-term basis? Despite its organised workers cadres, the JI failed to make an impression in NA-55. One major factor for such a reaction against the leading religious party could be its hesitation to openly condemn the militants/suicide bombers, who killed hundreds of innocent civilians and security personnel in terrorist acts in our cities. Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf would surely be upset with its performance in this by-election, as it failed to mobilise the voters especially the youth in its favour. With a party manifesto that genuinely reflects the peo-ples aspirations and led by a charismatic, honest and selfless leader like Imran Khan, the PTI needs to investigate this failure and revise its strategy for the future. NA-55 saw Sheikh Rashid going down fighting to the end. He termed the election results as his victory in defeat. Has the veteran of many political movements and upheavals finally met his political Waterloo? But the shrewd politician that Sheikh Rashid is, his ability to bounce back in favourable circumstances in future cannot be ruled out. As thousands of PML-N workers jubilantly celebrated a well deserved victory late that night, there remain some obvious questions. Are Pakistani politicians sincere in improving the life of the poor common man? Will the educated middle class ever break the feudals holdover Pakistani politics? Is the present political leadership capable of honestly leading Pakistan in line with the Quaids vision, to meet the 21st century challenges? The writer is a retired brigadier Email: fhkhan54@gmail.com