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National

July 9, 2018

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Why did Nawaz Sharif decide to return?

Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz decision to return on July 13, knowing well that they can face long prison, has certainly given a new hope to Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) workers. Together, they will be facing 10 years and 7 years rigorous imprisonment, as per verdict of an accountability court. What could be possible reasons behind this decision? Does he want to correct the historical wrong committed in 2001, when he went into exile for 10 years, and hoping to see his party win July-25 elections?

His decision to return home is certainly a big political gamble, as he knows that it is now-or-never moment for him and his politics. Has he not decided to return, it would have given a walkover to his opponents and their counter narrative, led by Imran Khan that Sharif is out, and now the PML-N will be out also.

His main critics, Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari, were not sure about his return. One was saying, “London is his actual home”, while the other said that he (Nawaz) had applied for political asylum. Some are still not sure about his return and believe the plan can be changed at the last moment. But, the way his son-in-law decided to court arrest hinted at PML-N’s plans for July 13.

Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz know that if they don't return and face imprisonment, Sharif's narrative will die down, something which they don't want. They, in fact, want the PML-N to win the next elections on their very narrative.

Some PML-N sources hinted that Shahbaz Sharif is also convinced now that his brother's narrative is not all that wrong, as he himself fears arrest unless NAB decides to withhold action till elections. His speech on Saturday was far more aggressive than his previous speeches. He stressed more on Nawaz Sharif, his conviction, against NAB and the Nawaz Sharif policies than his own development schemes.

How the PML-N would react on July 13 would determine party's support on the ground, as both Shahbaz and Hamza have decided to lead the welcome procession. They have already given call for receiving Nawaz and Maryam warmly.

It will also be a test of the interim government and administration that how they tackle the situation, as there are chances of political tension in the city.

On the other hand, the return of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz can silence their critics at least on one point that they did not run away from trial and conviction, like General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

They are also not very hopeful of acceptance of their appeal or protective bail. The two also know that they would not be kept in any sub-jail, as the conviction clearly stated that it would be rigorous imprisonment, and those who had seen prison know what did that mean.

Irrespective of the merit of the case from disqualification to conviction, Sharif's decision has buried all kinds of speculations about any ‘NRO’ (underhand deal). So, why he decided to come back so soon?

(1) Nawaz Sharif knows that his 2001 decision had not only damaged his politics but also led to break-up of the PML-N and made General (retd) Pervez Musharraf strong. Perhaps, he wants to correct his historical wrong.

Nawaz and the family had faced conviction by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Karachi, when Justice (retd) Rehmat Hussain Jaffery was an ATC judge. He had sentenced Nawaz to life in jail in a plane hijacking case, registered on the directive of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf in Oct 1999.

Later, the then government filed an appeal in the Sindh High Court for enhancement of conviction from life to death sentence. It was at that point that the family felt Musharraf could send Nawaz to gallows, like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was at that point that some family members contacted Saudi royal family and Musharraf allowed the whole family to leave Pakistan, on one condition that they would not return for at least for 10 years.

Nawaz Sharif always denied it and believed that Musharraf himself had planned to keep both him and Benazir out of politics, which he did during 2002 elections.

It led to cracks in the PML-N, and the PML-Q became the favourite party of the then establishment, which shared power with Musharraf, along with a small group, PPP-Patriot.

But Sharif carried that burden throughout his post-2001 politics, like the PPP faced criticism of doing an NRO with Musharraf in 2007. Benazir Bhutto immediately realised and broke the accord by returning on Oct 18, and as consequences was martyred on Dec 27, 2007.

Secondly, Nawaz Sharif also wants to prove that people have not accepted his disqualification as well as conviction. The only way available for him is to ensure the PML-N victory in elections. He knows that he cannot contest nor his daughter, but if the PML-N wins the next polls on his narrative, politically he will be able to propagate this perception.

Nawaz Sharif had built this perception after July 28, 2017, by leading a procession from GT Road to Lahore, against what he termed an injustice to him. Although, it also led to split views in the PML-N, events which followed after disqualification indicated that his narrative got approval of his followers.

Thirdly, Nawaz Sharif is also facing a serious dilemma of the political legacy. He will not be in the electoral race, but still wants that at least Maryam must get some space. He always wanted Maryam to play a role more than his ailing wife, Kalsoom Nawaz, who even surprised him when she had led the protest against Musharraf.

Maryam's entry into politics came along with Kalsoom Nawaz, but after the family left Pakistan, she could not get a chance to show her worth. The moment of her re-entry came after many years in the post-Panama era between 2016 and 2018. She led the campaign for her mother in NA-127, Lahore, and got her elected.

She is facing a far more dilemma than her three times elected father. Her electoral debut has been blocked because of her conviction for seven years, and subsequent disqualification for 10 years. So, unless the conviction and disqualification are suspended, she has little chance to be elected to Parliament.

Sources close to Nawaz Sharif believe that the last two years had been the most painful years in his political career, not merely because of disqualification and conviction, but more because of direct and indirect remarks which came during the court proceedings.

So, this is the final round for the Sharif family as well as for the PML-N. They knew that failure is not an option for them, particularly in the presence of such a powerful counter narrative, which is led by their toughest political rival, Imran Khan, who believes that his narrative against corruption would defeat Sharifs and their narrative on July 25.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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