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November 14, 2019

Future of PML-N


November 14, 2019

Prime Minister Imran Khan should not have set any ‘pre-condition’ for removing former premier Nawaz Sharif’s name from the ECL, and allowed him to travel abroad for medical treatment on humanitarian grounds.

In case Nawaz doesn't return, he would lose his appeal against conviction and put his and PML-N’s future at stake. Now, Nawaz’s refusal to go abroad on pre-condition has put the federal government in a more embarrassing position. The prime minister should have given some serious thought to the advice of his allies Ch Shujaat Hussain and Sh Rashid. How history would judge Nawaz Sharif, as he is passing through one of the most difficult times of his life and his health is deteriorating day by day?

He was brought into politics by Gen Zia regime, but it is also a fact that he challenged the powerful quarters. As someone who was elected record three times as prime minister or as a disgraced politician after being disqualified on ‘Iqama’ and convicted. He remains as a controversial figure of Pakistani politics, but the one who really transformed and gave a new look to the PML-N, which still has a strong vote bank. The future of the party depends on the fate of its leader and the final outcome of his appearance in the high court. The PML-N as a party remains united under Nawaz Sharif’s leadership even after his disqualification, and despite a powerful campaign launched by Imran Khan in 2018 elections, the PTI could not get enough seats to form government in Punjab on its own. Had the PML-Q not extended its support to the the PTI, the PML-N would have retained its position.

There have been all kind of speculations about the future of Nawaz Sharif and the political role of his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is regarded even by his opponent as a very aggressive chief minister during his tenure, but a very compromising and flexible politician.

If bad governance besides some other factors provided space to Imran and the PTI, and they emerged as third force, their performance in the last 15 months has kept the hopes of the PML-N alive for future politics but Imran still has four years to deliver and improve his governance while Opposition has to come out with an alternate. Nawaz factor would continue to dominate Punjab politics because of its ‘class character’.

If one looks into the politics of Nawaz Sharif, it revolves around controversies. He was brought into power by Gen Zia and on his directive staged the first ‘coup’ within the PML against the then prime minister and PML president, the late Mohammad Khan Junejo.

Sharifs were brought into politics to counter the PPP and replace feudal style of politics with more urbanised look. Nawaz’s entry also divided the liberals, some of whom joined or supported the PML on the pretext that urbanised politics would bring industrial revolution. Those ‘liberals’ who opposed Sharifs termed it another move of the establishment to defame popular and ideological politics.

Junejo, who in his brief tenure of three years took some very bold steps against the will of Gen Zia by restoring civil liberties, lifting ban on media and restoring political activities.

The right wing and religious parties on the other hand saw Nawaz Sharif, as someone who would follow Zia’s legacy and enforced his Islamic reforms. They remained allies of Nawaz till 1997, when for the first time PML-N got two thirds majority. Nawaz’s thinking about the ‘role of the establishment’ changed after 1993, when the then president the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan refused to restore his government despite the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court.

In 1997, when he got two thirds majority, he adopted an authoritarian style, and the former army chief Gen Jehangir Karamat and Supreme Court’s former chief justice (the late Sajjad Ali Shah) had to go home. Nawaz also ordered removal of former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf, but the move bounced back and his government was toppled on October 12, 1999.

Thus Nawaz Sharif never had an ideal working relationship with any army chief after Gen Zia. His government survived a possible coup in 2014; and unity within the Parliament brought a peaceful end to ‘dharna’ staged by his rival Imran Khan. ‘Corruption’ remains an issue in Pakistani politics since 1988 and at least four governments of Junejo, Benazir Bhutto (twice) Nawaz (once) were dismissed on corruption allegations.

However, each time the these leaders were used against each other and corruption cases never reached logical end till the ‘Panama Leaks’ in 2016 jolted the Sharif family. This big story created stir in the world as many prominent leaders named also surfaced for keeping ‘offshore’ companies.

One of the biggest political blunders of Nawaz in his political career had been in bringing too many family members in the PML-N and in the government, something which did not go well within the political circles. Unlike Bhutto, who kept his family out of politics as long as he was in power or alive, Sharifs' every second family member enjoyed political status. Irrespective of the allegations of corruption against Sharifs, even their political opponents not only acknowledged their development projects, but also tried to initiate them in their provinces.

Schemes like Motorway and Metro faced criticism, but they certainly improved transport and road connectivity, something essential for industrialisation. Deal with Pervez Musharraf in 2002 was as big a mistake for Nawaz as the NRO for Benazir Bhutto, but the ‘Charter of Democracy’, which the two leaders signed in 2006, is still regarded as best document after 1973 Constitution.

Pakistani politics still revolves around ‘personality cult’ and family legacy. The ‘class character’ which has dominated Pakistani politics in the last 72 years has also encouraged ‘family legacy’.

Founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah always wanted country to be run on democratic lines and also gave clear direction how the country should be governed in his policy statement on August 11, 1947 at the Constituent Assembly. But soon after his death on September 11, 1948, his historic speech was never made part of the Constitution.

(The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO)