Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz are coming back on July 13. The timing might alter a bit – only the slightest, if at all – but this is definitely what will happen, despite the murmurs to the contrary.
Of course, this isn’t because the father and daughter are warriors for the truth or are orchestrating any grass-root revolutions, as much as they might pose otherwise. This is simply because their political future, and in turn dodging the dustbin of history, depends on their being in Pakistan for a large chunk of the next two weeks.
The fact that they would be shipped straight to jail – one where the ‘rigorous imprisonment’ will be carried out – is not a deterrent against the decision to return; in fact it is actually the prime pulling factor for the Sharifs.
They have centered their heretofore nonexistent election campaigning on the accountability court sending them to jail. Those doubting this should take a mini tour of Lahore and notice the wide disparity between the PTI banners and those of the PML-N – there is a stark contrast in not just the number, but also the size.
Contrary to the divisions that had sprung up within the Sharif family, with Shehbaz Sharif clearly not in favour of Nawaz’s gung-ho campaigning against the military and judiciary following his ouster as the prime minister last year, they’re all on board in this plan.
Because Shehbaz Sharif has realised – perhaps belatedly, or maybe at just about the perfect time – that despite his administrative wherewithal it is actually Nawaz Sharif whose name echoes with the PML-N’s.
Zaeem Qadri’s vociferous outburst against Hamza Shehbaz and departure from the party might’ve been the tipping point – and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Nawaz’s return to Pakistan is followed by the re-gravitation of the dissenting, or forcibly pulled, party pieces.
Here’s what will happen: Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz will land in Pakistan, where they will be rapturously received by the PML-N leadership spearheaded by Shehbaz Sharif. If Captain Safdar’s arrest could create such a massive scene, imagine the theatrics in store when the bigger guns come to the party.
From there Nawaz and Maryam will be taken to jail. Thence, the verdict will be formally appealed against and protective bail would be applied for, allowing them to come out. And that is when the counterattack begins.
Not only would the banner sizes all over Punjab multiply by manifold, it is Nawaz Sharif’s “mujhay kyun nikaala” narrative that would be loudly shrieked in all the party rallies, by every member of the Sharif family, and the senior PML-N leaders.
This 10-day spree across Punjab, in the very last moments of the campaign time, is the electoral assault equivalent of keeping Lionel Messi on the bench and bringing him on for the last 10-15 minutes of the game while trailing a football match.
With Nawaz Sharif spearheading his victim narrative flanked by Maryam Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N would exhibit its full clout on the turf it owns as its home ground.
How many people in Punjab – and even beyond – buy that narrative is a separate argument, but this abovementioned stratagem remains the only chance for the PML-N to not only get what it wants from the upcoming election, but to maintain its unity – and relevance – as a political party, regardless of where they finish in the final count on July 25.
The accountability court’s decision to send Nawaz and Maryam to prison, hence, is a Get Out of Jail Free Victim Card for the Sharifs and the PML-N. If used wisely it could get them back to square one as the party that could lead the inevitable coalition government following the elections.
The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.