It is a political deadlock in Pakistan. The civilian government has been pushed to the brink of an abyss. The establishment is propagating the need of a technocrat government to solve the problems. The Sharif party government is fighting back and they have created a strong anti-establishment narrative in the province of Punjab.
Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif, who is the Chief Minister of Punjab, is trying to convince his older brother not to lock horns with the mighty establishment. But up till now Sharif has not been listening to him. The rift within the family regarding the next crown prince is also getting to a stage where both Sharif brothers have to announce their political heir. Both Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz are fighting to get the throne.
In a situation like this it is very easy for the establishment to manoeuvre the political chessboard. It actually gives them the freedom to keep weakening Sharif’s political fort Punjab. There are dozens of electables in Sharif’s ruling party who do not want confrontation with the institutions. So it leaves the option open for the establishment to get them in their boat.
With every passing day the anxiety is increasing in the PML-N elected members. Adding to worries is the dissent of people like Khawaja Saad Rafique, a close aid of Nawaz. Even he is against conflict with the establishment and also refusese to accept Maryam Nawaz as Nawaz Sharif’s political heir. Hamza Shahbaz has firm support on the ground from rural Punjab and is also acceptable to the establishment because of his compromising attitude.
It seems on the other hand there are two different plans, the first being to stage a demonstration of Imran Khan and create a law and order situation, intervening in the name of avoiding civil riots. Of course judiciary is ready to stamp the validity if this happens. The second plan is to let the PML-N government survive until ther next elections but get Nawaz Sharif convicted through judiciary so he stands no chance whatsoever in the next general elections.
The first plan seems more realistic as it allows the army to take over and install a technocrat government. The establishment will never go for elections as even a convicted Nawaz Sharif behind bars can never be defeated through elections in Punjab. There is a possibility of another deal that can be offered to the ruling party, 'Convince Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam to stay away from politics and you will get the chance to contest the next general elections.'
Now Nawaz Sharif is left with the two options, the first is to listen to his brother and save the fort of Punjab. The second is to trust the masses and confront the establishment. It is not easy, but if Sharif chooses the second option he will certainly stand a chance of coming back to power, as this gives him a chance to ride on a sympathy wave and launch a mass protest in case elections are not held.
Shahbaz may not support his older brother but he is not also in a position to ditch him as the vote bank of PML-N revolves around Nawaz Sharif . Like it or not, Nawaz Sharif is the brand voters buy and after him it is going to be Maryam Nawaz . The reception Maryam Nawaz received during the by-election campaign in NA-120 is unprecedented. Only Nawaz Sharif was given such a warm welcome. So she has already proven her persona and is becoming acceptable to the urban middle class voter of the Punjab. This has actually only deepened the rift between her and Hamza Shahbaz.
Nawaz Sharif until now has put everything at stake so he may not act on the “Live another day” formula. An intervention from Washington is not possible as Sharif’s tilt towards China and Russia has not left a good gesture in the eyes of Washington. Once his best friend. Saudi Arabia is also unhappy with him following his decision to not send Pakistan’s troops to Yemen to protect Saudi interest.
So Sharif right now finds himself in a place where he has to risk everything and come back to Pakistan and start addressing public gatherings. The more public gatherings Sharif addresses, the more pressure will be built on the establishment. Sharif’s return to the country is critical for his political survival. It will also keep intact his constituency.
But the question is, is Sharif willing to take on the establishment? His dissident party members, who are not willing to take on the fight, are happy to see him in London. Regarding the possibility of a technocrat government, it is highly unlikely till COAS Qamar Bajwa is in charge. He is a pro-democracy guy with a cool head on his shoulders like General Kayani. So if the plot is to install a technocrat setup then Qamar Bajwa is not the man who will call the shots. This hypothetically means that in order to make the script successful Qamar Bajwa too will be sent home, a situation very unlikely to be true. This actually makes this tussle for power a “Jigsaw puzzle”.
Sharif is wounded, his party and even his nephew Hamza showing disagreement with his ideology, but still his party is intact and governing Pakistan, at least on paper. The powers who ousted Sharif know that if elections are somehow held and Sharif is there then another term of Sharif’s party is guaranteed. So the million dollar question is who will turn the tables and pack the system?
A long march from Imran Khan remains the only option but the problem is that the government is not going to let this happen and they will place him under house arrest long before the march. A possible disqualification of Mr Khan or his close aide Jehangir Tareen from the courts can weaken the narrative of Sharif, as the establishment can then easily propagate that even Mr Khan was disqualified which means that we were not conspiring behind the scenes. Khan may get the benefit of the doubt but it is highly unlikely that Jehangir Tareen can survive his disqualification.
By sacrificing Imran Khan the establishment can get rid of Sharif’s narrative or at least weaken it. Again this seems not to be worthwhile as will leave a political vacuum and, if a genuine anti-establishment movement emerges, someone else may capitalize on it. So we will wait for a few more weeks to see if the scriptwriter has more twists and turns, or if it will indeed be a stalemate by Sharif to the mighty establishment.