A long road ahead

November 21,2017

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Since his disqualification as prime minister by the Supreme Court, Nawaz Sharif has refused to go quietly into the night. Starting with his GT Road rally to his regular public gatherings around the country, Nawaz’s strategy is to energise his base by painting himself as a defiant leader who will not give in to the machinations of those who want him removed. At his most recent rally at Abbottabad on Sunday, Nawaz said he is neither afraid of death nor prison and that he would continue to fight on behalf of the people. The reinvention of Nawaz Sharif as a populist leader has been surprising since he was hardly own for his public speaking or ability to inspire a crowd; in his recent public gatherings, though, he has managed to draw large crowds. The party too has performed well in by-elections and may be confident of retaining its hold on power after next August’s general elections. That does not mean, however, that all is well within the world of the PML-N. The greatest danger to the party after the Panama Papers verdict was always going to be the possibility of mass defections. That did not end up happening, although there have been constant rumours of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar’s unhappiness. It would be ironic if Nawaz Sharif, now a darling of the crowds at his rallies, ends up losing control of the one constant of his political life: the leadership of the party he founded.
The biggest internal problem the PML-N may face now is the future of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. Dar, who is already facing an uncertain political future because of the corruption cases filed against him, had apparently agreed to resign. His ill health, which is already keeping him out of the country for long periods, may have provided a convenient cover for his resignation. It is believed that the Sharif brothers and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi were on board with the decision to resign. But the finance minister shocked everyone when he seemed to have had second thoughts regarding his reported resignation. Imran Khan claims this is proof that Nawaz Sharif is terrified that Dar will turn against him in court but the reality is likely more prosaic, and Dar, an ambitious man, may not want to relinquish his position. How Nawaz handles this problem will be interesting to watch. It is still far too early to speculate about a split within the party but the danger will increase should the Sharif family, including heir apparent Maryam Nawaz, suffer further legal setbacks. The road ahead for Nawaz is still a long and winding one.

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