Maryam Nawaz Sharif has returned amid economic and political crises in the country. But that’s not the sum of all her challenges
aryam Nawaz Sharif, the new chief organiser of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is back home. She now has the tough job of reorganising the party, amid severe economic crises, a fresh wave of terrorism and inter-party differences. In what many are calling a first step in the right direction, she recently held a party’s workers’ convention in Bahawalpur.
She has three tasks to complete on a war footing. First, rebuild a narrative; second reorganise the party not only in the Punjab but in other provinces as well; and third, keep the ranks intact.
Seen as a likely political heir to Nawaz Sharif, Maryam was amongst the PML-N leaders opposed to the idea of taking the federal government. However, other party leaders and Pakistan Democratic Movement allies prevailed. The PDM government is now widely seen as having failed to deliver on the economic front. Partially, as a result of this, the PML-N lost quite a few by-elections in the Punjab against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in 2022. Following a string of electoral defeats, the party workers have been demanding the return of Nawaz Sharif. Some of the party stalwarts have been saying he is about to return but this has not happened.
The PDM has been resisting Imran Khan’s demand for early elections. But, the dissolution of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies has brought the PDM to a difficult situation. Elections to these assemblies are now scheduled for April. It is imperative for the PML-N to regain its stronghold in the Punjab. Given these circumstances, the League was left with no choice but to call Maryam back. Some in the party think that she is the only one who can motivate the party’s supporters. Hamza Shahbaz is absent from the political scene after he lost the office of Punjab chief minister. Earlier, his daughter was under treatment abroad. Now, he is looking after his mother, Nusrat Shahbaz, in the US. In his absence, his brother Salman Shahbaz was called back. However, Salman issued some statements about Miftah Ismail, the former finance minister, that did not sit well with many party leaders.
The first jolt the PML-N received was from former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who resigned from his party office of senior vice president. For a while there was an impression that he had left the party as he was addressing seminars organised by a new forum. However, he clarified his position in a TV interview, saying, “Maryam is my younger sister. I have all the respect for her. I resigned from my party office the day after she was appointed the chief organiser.” Denying that he had left the party as well, he said, “I have not left the party. I have been a part of the PML-N for the last 35 years. I will remain a member.”
What the PML-N can do to motivate its supporters is to announce the immediate return of Nawaz Sharif.
For his part, Nawaz Sharif is said to have directed Maryam to appease Abbasi. PML-N insiders say that she had contacted him over telephone and invited him for a meeting. It is believed that in the coming weeks, he will meet her and she will take him into confidence about the party’s restructuring and other issues. Talking to the media in Bahawalpur, she said, “Abbasi is an asset to the party. We value his services for the country and the League. He is not going anywhere.”
But Abbasi is not the only one. The likes of Saad Rafiq, Miftah Ismail and Mehtab Abbasi are also showing signs of restlessness. With the polls due shortly for the Punjab and KP assemblies, Maryam will have to rush. PML-N leaders from southern Punjab, the KP, Sindh and Balochistan have not been very visible in recent party meetings. The party structure is visible in the central and northern Punjab but its features in Sindh, Balochistan and KP are obscured. Balighur Rehman’s appointment as the Punjab governor may have been meant to be a gesture to the south Punjab, but in the absence of a supportive provincial government has not done much for the party.
Maryam has finally did the right thing in holding the meetings with the workers. She has started her efforts to mend the broken ties with the PML-N voters in Bahawalpur – the hometown of the Punjab governor. She is scheduled to spend several days in various districts of south Punjab and is expected to announce new office bearers.
It was once believed that Nawaz Sharif had come up with an appealing narrative with the slogan “Vote ko izzat doe” (respect the ballot) through which he challenged political engineering by state institutions. After Nawaz Sharif went abroad for his treatment, Maryam kept the narrative alive. As a result, the PML-N won several by-elections against the ruling PTI. However, just before the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan, the PML-N narrative dropped out of her speeches. Next, she went abroad for her treatment. This way the party lost some of its momentum.
Now that she is back, she is not criticising any of the current dignitaries. In her address to the workers’ convention, she criticised two former chief justices and two former generals, accusing them of conspiring against the PML-N and supporting Imran Khan. She will likely keep grilling them and Imran Khan in the future too. Even if she develops a narrative around the former judges, generals and Imran Khan, the current economic crises and the price-hike will hinder her efforts. Her uncle, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, needs to take some revolutionary steps to complement her efforts. At the moment, the federal government is not in a position to provide economic relief to the masses. It also has to combat a fresh wave of terrorism. What the PML-N can do to motivate its supporters is to announce the immediate return of Nawaz Sharif.
Maryam will also do well to constitute youth wings in the PML-N as the Muslim Students Federation is no longer visible.
Maryam must also name provincial office bearers for the KP, Sindh and Balochistan and maintain a constant liaison with them. She should reach each and every corner of the Punjab and KP to regain the League’s lost strongholds.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher