Observers of the surreal melodrama that is Pakistan’s political landscape will surely have noticed how quiet the leadership of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party has been recently.
Ever since the death of former First Lady Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, her widower, Nawaz Sharif, and her daughter, Maryam Nawaz, have desisted from political statements. Apart from a bit of hoo-ha in the National Assembly, the party has also had little to say about the NAB case and detention of former Punjab CM Shabaz Sharif who is now not just an MNA but also the Leader of the Opposition.
Even quite lively party leaders like Khawaja Saad Rafique and Khawaja Muhammad Asif have been very subdued in recent days. It really appears as if the fight has gone out of the PML-N, and that all the wind has gone out of the party’s sails. The former PM was released from prison after the Islamabad High Court decided in his favour; basically overturned the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Panama Papers case against him, his daughter and his son-in-law. Since his release, he has been oddly quiet — quite unlike the defiant leader who protested against his removal last year and led processions and rallies where he openly spoke against what he termed the ‘establishment conspiracies’ against him.
So has the pressure now become too much for Nawaz Sharif? Has incarceration broken his fighting spirit and has the ‘establishment’ finally succeeded in shutting him up? What actually happened and when? Even more intriguing than his silence is the silence from his daughter Maryam who was widely regarded as his political successor and a sure-shot election winner. Her tone in the past was openly defiant and ‘anti-establishment’ but now all we get from her is… silence.
It is highly likely that pressure tactics against the family have finally worked — as observers are now speculating. And along with their silence and the astonishing retreat of the PML-N leadership, recent developments on Pakistan’s political scene seem to indicate that the design of a new political scenario is succeeding.
Apart from the neutralisation of the League, there have been other developments which are changing the political landscape.
A major development was the leniency with which the government treated the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and their violent protests against the Supreme Court ruling in the appeal against the decision in the blasphemy case against a poor Christian woman, Aasia bibi, who remained in jail for almost a decade. Not just did the PTI government tell us all what a great achievement it was for them to ‘negotiate’ with the rabble rousing party, it also excused the TLP protestors from prosecution in connection with all the destruction they had caused to citizens and public property. Plus Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which usually issues statements against politicians at the drop of a hat and keeps reminding us that they do so in order to ‘save the country’ from these same politicians (and from journalists too), declared that they would not intervene in the matter of the rabble rousers because it was ‘wrong’ to involve the military in every matter.
Not just did Imran Khan’s government capitulate before the TLP lynch mob but the espousal of the military line was further evident in developments that strengthened the State’s anti-Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) narrative: the abduction and murder of police officer Taher Dawar, who had seemed supportive of the PTM, and the ousting from the Awami National Party of outspoken and secular party stalwarts Asfandyar Khattak and Bushra Gohar, who had both spoken out in support of the Pashtun movement.
The transformation is now nearly complete in terms of both domestic and regional policy — hostility towards Afghanistan and India has replaced attempts at peace and dialogue and religious militants are treated leniently and indulgently despite the extent of their hate speech or incitement. Critical journalists and news anchors have mysteriously (and rather coincidentally) been sacked by different TV channels and news organisations, and ‘uncooperative’ news groups are being squeezed and driven towards financial ruin.
Perhaps this new reality was best evidenced by pictures from the recent wedding of the army chief’s son which looked more like an All Parties’ Conference than anything else. All the political leaders were there — as was the country’s chief justice.