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Top Story

October 19, 2017



Dilemma of family politics

Although Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz – who are considered by many as the possible successors of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif in politics – have dispelled the perception about a serious rift within the 'House of Sharifs' over their political future, the tone of Sharifs and the PML-N leadership in coming days and weeks would determine whether all is well or not.

The visit of Maryam Nawaz to the house of her uncle came in the backdrop of speculations and reports of rift, particularly because of a visible disappearance of Hamza from NA-120 campaign. She went to see her uncle just days after her two visits to NA-120.

Whether it is Sharifs or Bhuttos, the biggest dilemma of the dominant families in politics has been the lack of potential they have to meet the future challenges Pakistan is confronting with. This is the crisis not confined to these two strong political families because of the manner in which politics have now reshaped.

Democracy or politics in Pakistan has not merely been damaged due to family politics but also because of non-continuity of the system. The other factors include fear and sense of insecurity as we had witnessed in the last 70 years how popular parties were divided, while another reason is leader's lust for power, whether it is a matter of holding control of the government or the party.

For instance, none of Imran Khan's family member, particularly his children, would come into politics as he himself made it very clear, but the PTI hasn’t yet elected another chairman since its birth in 1996. Even in the parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, no one could challenge or replace its founder Maulana Maudoodi during his life time. Similarly, ANP's Asfandyar Wali not is ready to surrender his post despite being elected thrice. All this reflects undemocratic character and mindset even in the parties where elections were held.

Family politics would not last provided democracy will get the chance to survive. It is but certain that the family politics would not sustain if hindrance is not created in the electoral process. The younger generation of the established political families may find it difficult to survive merely on the basis of their family background as we are witnessing today.

For instance, Bilawal Bhutto has to struggle hard to even come to close to the popularity which once his mother Benazir Bhutto enjoyed. Maryam Nawaz or Hamza Shahbaz would also find it difficult to sustain the power the manner in which Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif enjoyed for three decades. They too would have to struggle the way Benazir Bhutto had to carry the political and family legacy of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Therefore, it is the time for political parties to reform themselves instead of handing over the leadership from one family member to another. There is nothing wrong if any family member want to join politics, but in future the power of vote would not be given on merely slogans or being a son or daughter.

Political families dominated our society because we never allowed democracy to grow and instead derailed the system after every five or ten years. Similarly, it would be wrong to blame the family politics for all the political ills, as the parties where families had little role or no role were divided due to power struggle or the lust for power.

Birth of Pakistan was a result of a long democratic struggle based upon democratic principles and the founder of Pakistan led from the front. The founding Muslim League never revolved around family politics, but it could not remain united after the death of Quaid-e-Azam followed by the assassination of first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan because of power struggle.

It is the power struggle within the PML, East and West Pakistan, which divided the party. The other political parties also could not sustain for long. Even the parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, which has democracy within, had not been able to elect any other chief as long as its founder Maulana Maudoodi was alive.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s entry into politics had not been because of family background when he was picked as a junior minister for the first time in 1960s by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Bhutto's family legacy started when his government was sacked and martial law imposed. At first, Bhutto nominated senior vice-chairman Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad (Baba-e-Socialism) as acting chairman, but he was advised by Sheikh Rasheed himself after strong resistance from the party's feudal to nominate Begum Nusrat Bhutto.

His execution stunned Pakistan and led to a massive sympathy for the family. While Begum Nusrat Bhutto never had the kind of political instinct Bhutto had, Benazir Bhutto took from where Bhutto left. But she led from the front and faced hardship, prison, exile. And she became unchallengeable after her return in 1986, while some of her 'uncles' compromised with the military establishment.

But when Benazir was assassinated in 2007, the PPP could not recover and her son and daughters are finding it a bit harder to carry her political legacy even after 10 years since the assassination.

The growth of Sharif family in politics was not the result of their interest in politics, but because they were convinced, forced and pushed and the purpose was to counter PPP and the Bhutto factor. The late Mian Sharif had never been in politics but his sons were brought against his own wish.

Therefore, it will not be difficult to understand the crisis within the PML-N which has deepened as a result of disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, but the problems within the family had emerged after 2000 when they decided or forced to quit politics for 10 years, and sent into exile to Saudi Arabia.

An unimpeachable source disclosed that it was the family decision to accept the deal after the Musharraf government moved the Sindh High Court for enhancement of sentence from life imprisonment to death for Nawaz Sharif and also challenged the acquittal of Shahbaz Sharif and others.

Prior to this move, Sharifs stood firm and even Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, who till then was always considered as an apolitical figure, decided to the lead the protest movement.

Those who criticised the Sharifs and their alleged corruption and at times anti-establishment character, never asked this basic question to those who brought them into politics: Why a business family, who till 1970s, had nothing to do with politics was pursued, pushed and facilitated to do politics?

It  only damages politicswhen you bring an apolitical business family into politics and that too in a manner which suits those ‘quarters’ just to counter another popular party.

A close look at Panama Leaks also reflects the problems within the Sharif family and that could be one of the reasons why only Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz, Hasan Nawaz, Capt Safdar and Ishaq Dar are facing the charges revolving around assets.

Who will carry the political legacy of Nawaz Sharif may not be easy for him as both the brothers have jointly struggled and earned this position. Those who know Shahbaz Sharif believe that he wanted his elder brother to take the decision but in a manner in which injustice was done with his son.

This is the crucial decision which Nawaz Sharif will take. He apparently wants that his honour should be restored as he is not only angry over the manner in which he was ousted but also felt humiliated. He is even more disturbed with the political future of his legacy – Maryam Nawaz.

There is a strong feeling among those PML leaders supporting Nawaz Sharif’s hard-line posture that those within the party, who wants Nawaz Sharif to remain quite or soften, actually want him to accept his and Maryam Nawaz's political exit.

The political future of Nawaz Sharif's largely depends on the outcome of NAB cases followed by the legal procedure. Some believe that even in case of a compromise, deal or NRO, chances of his return to politics still look very bleak.

In this backdrop, the meeting of Maryam Nawaz with her uncle in the presence of Hamza Shahbaz has far-reaching political significance. The message Shahbaz Sharif reportedly gave to her was simple: United we stand, divided we fall.

They know the PML-N’s capacity to fight a long political battle, both with such a powerful judiciary and the establishment. The big question is whether the party will survive in case Nawaz Sharif takes a backseat and let Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz to go forward.

Shahbaz Sharif would certainly not revolt against his brother, but he has strongly communicated to him that in case of any confrontational politics, the party would not be able to complete its term and he also foresees few upset in the Senate elections.

Democratically speaking, there is nothing wrong if any or more family members of any political family are interested in politics. It happens all over the world, including the strongest democracies, but there is a way and standard principle, something we found missing here.

Today, politics has turned into business and even children who hardly know ABC of politics get party tickets and position as their right. But this will not last if the system is allowed to function and progress.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.  

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO