Things are not going easy for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has arrested the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif in a corruption scam, two weeks after his brother Nawaz Sharif and niece Maryam Nawaz were released from the Adiala jail after getting bail from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the Avenfield properties reference.

The relief for the Sharif family members was being interpreted as an outcome of a deal in some political and media circles. Former provincial minister Rana Mashhood claimed that the ties between the PML-N leadership and the establishment have been mended fuelled the speculations.

However, the recent development, once again, make people think otherwise. Shehbaz was arrested by the NAB officials when he appeared before the bureau in the Rs 4 billion Saaf Pani Company scam. A press release issued by the anti-graft body claims the former chief minister was arrested after he failed to satisfy the investigator for his alleged role in awarding contracts to his favourite firm in violations of rules in the Ashiana Housing scheme and Punjab Saaf Pani Company.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) saw it as a beginning of road to justice; as Information Minsiter Fawad Chaudhry hinted the arrest of Shehbaz Sharif will be followed by some further major arrests. On the other hand, PML-N leadership termed the arrest of the PML-N president 10 days before the conduct of countrywide by-elections as an attempt to influence the polls and nothing but political victimisation.

Not going into that which perspective is more authentic, the optics are very clear; challenges are not over for PML-N yet. In the absence of Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif was the one who, somehow, managed to keep the party united. Despite of internal rifts and defeat in general elections, it has be to admitted that PML-N did not see any major blow in terms of a forward block or anything like this.

It is to be mentioned here that the former chief minister is also facing inquiries in connection with the Model Town killings. Now, the question that remains of prime importance is that in case of Shehbaz’s conviction in any of his cases, who will lead the PML-N? Nawaz Sharif has been declared disqualified for life. Can Maryam Nawaz, who is on bail, be able to lead the party from the front? Will it be Hamza Shehbaz who will take the charge?

Realistically speaking, a severe leadership crisis can emerge in the PML-N if Shehbaz Sharif would have to face the same his elder brother faced. The rift between Hamza and Maryam is no longer a secret. Moreover, many senior party leaders such as Chaudhry Nisar have already refused to work under Maryam. Hamza, with almost no parliamentary exposure at national level, will not be acceptable to many including the family of his uncle. So, would the PML-N go for someone outside the Sharif family? Keeping the history and the mindset of the party higher-ups, it will not happen.

Coming back to what Rana Mashhood said, mending ties with the state institutions is much needed for the Sharif family and for PML-N to keep its core vote bank intact. Critics believe the aggressive and sometimes offensive approach of Nawaz Sharif towards state institutions pushed the party into what it is facing. Rana Mashhood’s statement was exactly the reflection of what people in the party ranks are thinking right now.

Moreover, the unity of command is another major factor that PML-N lacks. They went into election campaign with two different slogans:  vote ko izzat do of the elder and Khidmat ko vote do of the younger brother. There are many in the party including close aides of Shehbaz Sharif who prefer playing good cop instead of bad, whereas others, rightly or wrongly, are not getting slow on state institutions. There has to be the clarity of mind and the unity of command to run the party’s policy matters.

Another point which PML-N leaders have to understand is that they should not let the field free for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, who is enjoying more favourable situation at least on political fronts. The PML-N, as the largest opposition party, must deal with them tactically. The government is new, several on key posts do not have much experience. The PML-N obviously would have chance to gain the grounds again if they act like a responsible opposition party by not indulging themselves into unnecessary criticism. Their constructive behaviour will definitely be fruitful for the country and for themselves too. Otherwise, the things won’t change for them.