For Pakistan’s ruling PML-N party, their troubles are far from over. After Faizabad another sit in from Tahirul Qadri is now in the making and if that is not enough, Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi along with other religious clerics is already threatening to stage a sit-in in front of the Punjab Assembly until the Law Minister Rana Sanaullah resigns from his post.
The script is working perfectly, all the pro-establishment forces have joined hands together to get rid of Sharif’s party. Imran Khan and Zardari holding hands with Tahir ul Qadri is not a surprise and will not be a surprise either if Sialvi and his accomplices at some point also join the Qadri and Khan company. Sharif is already wounded through the judiciary and is facing the hardest time of his political career. An ailing wife with throat cancer, cases of corruption on him and his whole family, the wrath of religious clerics and establishment; all factors that can easily doom any political figure or party in a conservative and traditionally pro-establishment society of Pakistan.
On the other hand Mr Khan Is enjoying the overwhelming support of the establishment and the larger section of the media that actually works as a proxy to the establishment. With the religious card in his hand Mr Khan is one hundred per cent certain that this time he will bury Sharif’s politics and after that no one will be able to stop him from becoming Prime Minister. Mr Khan may be riding the horse of luck but the question is will he be able to oust Sharif forever or will it be enough to enable him to win the Punjab through the elections?
The mighty establishment is pulling all the strings and they are the ones who call the shots. From giving birth to Mr Khan through a self-created hype of revolution to arranging sit-ins of Qadri and Maulvi Khadim Rizvi, the establishment has successfully manipulated the chessboard and made sure that Sharif does not get a chance to emerge again on the political horizon.
But the question arises, what took them four and a half years to ouster Sharif? It may be that Sharif was playing it well or maybe he had the backing of an international establishment. Whatever the case, Sharif was not damaged badly, even after his disqualification. So as the last resort the religious card was played and like always it paid off but at the cost of weakening the state and the society. It also brought some new forces and faces to the power politics.
The religious clerics and peers have now been shown the door to the power corridors and they are also the players. Though they were always in the game of power they were not given an opportunity to play the game directly or to humiliate a democratic government by playing the religious card. They have actually realised that it is their religious card which proved a stalemate to Sharif. They know too that the establishment is using them to snatch the Punjab from Sharif’s grip.
The question arises here is will they stop after completing the mission given to them? History tells us that they will not. Once any group or sect is given a share of power to oust any opponent, it is almost impossible to take the power back from them. From MQM to Sipah-e-Sahaba and from the Taliban to Lashkar-e- Taiba we have seen examples in recent history where the groups or parties became a parallel state and even threatened the existence of the state.
The lines are drawn; Mr Khan with the backing of the establishment and by playing the religious card through the proxies of the establishment is gaining a momentum in the Punjab. The political parties are silently backing Mr Khan, Qadri and religious clerics in the hopes of getting some reward from the outcome.
Sharif is fighting against all odds. He is not good at winning against the odds but history tells us that he always takes his opponents down with him. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Asif Janjua and Farooq Leghari are the examples in this regard. So what Mr Khan is dreaming of might not come true.
Even from behind bars or in exile Sharif can still pull the strings of his party and at least cannot leave much room for his opponents in his fort of Punjab. This means the battle is not yet over. Deep down somewhere in the dark rooms the shrewd men of the establishment know that the card used to damage Sharif is the ugliest of all and has put in question the state apparatus to control fanatics at international levels.
Adding to their worries is the fact that even until now, Sharif’s party is still very much intact and there seems to be no sign of major defections. Yes a few of the opportunists’ politicians who like to go with the wind will defect or ditch Sharif but they are not in sufficient numbers. So even after winning the battle the establishment realises that it is far from over. The same is the case with Mr Khan, he knows that Sharif is not going to let him walk over his fort. His greatest worry is the fact that even after injuring Sharif through the religious card his vote bank does not seem to be diminished.
Another worry is of course his masters, as deep down inside he knows that Asghar Khan was used by the establishment to oust Zulfikar Bhutto but after his ouster Asghar Khan was not made Prime Minister, nor was he given any significant share of power in the game. So Mr Khan also knows the fight is far from over and if somehow the elections are even held, with all the engineering and manipulation, this can only result in a hung parliament, giving the opportunity for Sharif to manoeuvre things in his favour to grab power again.
While Sharif sits in the cold of London he might be thinking of a resurgence on the back of the international establishment. His good ties with Turkey’s President Erdogan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are somehow good enough to keep him in the good books of the Trump administration. However, Sharif does not enjoy the old cordial relations with the new Saudi establishment but his ties with the establishment of the Arab countries are certainly still strong enough to create an opportunity for a comeback.
For that to happen however, Sharif needs to convince the international players that he still has the public’s support and, if given the chance of a free and fair election, he can prove it. This means that Sharif’s one point agenda will be to get the international guarantee for fair elections in 2018. This is the only chance Sharif has if he is to survive.
Judging by the sentiments of civil society and human rights organisations in Pakistan Sharif’s case is much stronger and he may emerge as a winner in the form of getting an election which may otherwise seem impossible as per the script of the invisible forces in Pakistan. A free and fair election after all can easily give Sharif’s party the opportunity to grab a simple majority to form the government again and to bring Maryam Nawaz to the helm of affairs. To the horror of Mr Khan and the establishment, Maryam Nawaz, unlike her father, is not very compromising, nor is she interested in being dictated by the establishment or religious clerics.
So even after trapping both elder and younger Sharifs the establishment and Mr Khan are still not able to seize the moment, which can be referred to as a fatal blow or an absolutely masterstroke of victory. The battle is on, with Sharif, as opposed to how it appears on paper, is still in a good position and the winners on paper, the establishment and Mr Khan, appear to be finding a way to somehow deny Sharif a chance of another election.
The problem with the establishment and Mr. Khan is that no one, including the Republicans in the US, supports martial law, nor does anyone trust the establishment and pro-establishment forces. So Sharif has every chance of reviving anytime as he did before when he was ousted by Musharraf. He did it by grabbing time and is doing it again by buying time.
The edge Sharif has over his opponents is that he is battling for survival while the opponents, Mr Khan and the establishment, are battling only for power. The man fighting for survival is always more dangerous than the one fighting for the crown as we choose survival as a virtue, not by choice.
Whatever the result, Sharif has completely changed the political landscape of the pro-establishment province of Punjab. This time it is the Punjabi voter that is expressing resent over the disrespect of his vote. For the analysts and the people who have written Sharif off and are already dancing to the tune of the new emperors, this battle is still in the balance and the show is going to continue in the form of Maryam Nawaz. As Shakespeare famously said; “The show must go on.“