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The mysterious sojourn

Sharifs’ visit to Saudi Arabia has sparked speculations about which of the two brothers — Nawaz or Shahbaz — is the real man in charge

The mysterious sojourn
Press conference: Nawaz Sharif stands his ground.

How will the politics of Nawaz Sharif unfold in the new year? Given the message sent out of the recent Saudi Arabia trip made by the two brothers — Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif — that the elder brother’s role in politics is not over yet, this is not the cruelest question.

Some political pundits believe that his recent trip to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the aggressive tone he has adopted on return, signals that the elder Sharif’s role in politics is still strong. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad upon return from their much-speculated visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan 3, he threatened to ‘spill the beans’ if political wheeling and dealing does not stop.

Read also: Nawaz’s war on establishment

“Nawaz Sharif has given a strong message to those forces that wanted political instability in the country,” says Geo’s senior political commentator Rana Jawad. “I see a smooth sail for the Sharifs in upcoming Senate polls as well as the 2018 general elections.”

According to Mosharraf Zaidi, Maryam may enjoy some of the charisma and aura of her father, but “she has not spent a day in the executive office and is not a credible source of delivery. She will have to wait and work to earn a name for herself in politics.”

“Sharifs appear a bit more confident on their return from Saudi Arabia,” says senior Islamabad-based journalist M. Ziauddin. “The security establishment, through Saudi Arabia, has asked Nawaz to abandon his hard narrative against the institutions.”

He does not see any “NRO-Link-Like situation”, because “Nawaz Sharif would prefer jail than leave the country, in case the trial court finds him guilty. Both Sharif brothers have succeeded in keeping their party intact despite the Panama case order and the hard times that followed.”

Dispelling rumours about a possible deal in Saudi Arabia in a WhatsApp chat with TNS, a member of Sharif family asks “What NRO? Is there any case that can stand [ground] should the courts be allowed to work independently?” When probed further, he responded, “…NRO implies hidden hands …My response on NRO is required (sic) only for those who have solid cases against them. This [Panama] case today is similar to the plane conspiracy case which is like writing on the sand.”

He thinks that the iqama issue will be reviewed again “like all the cases in the Musharraf era”. About any possible NRO with military establishment, he says, “If my father [Nawaz Sharif] compromised (sic) he could have reached a deal when General Mahmood came to him on the night of the coup [in 1999].” He further responded, “…History alone can determine whether the qualities and services of a leader outweigh ghatiya [disrespectful] point scoring.”

But some political analysts are not as optimistic. They believe that the over three decades long political career of Nawaz Sharif is over. His confrontation with the powerful military establishment and friction with his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif who has a tight grip on the Punjab are the two main reasons for his downfall, they say. They do not even see a role for his daughter Maryam Nawaz in the future politics of PML-N.

“Sharifs’ Saudi yatra and their meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, adds a new twist to the ongoing political soap opera,” says senior columnist Zahid Hussain. “Saudi rulers have put pressure on Nawaz Sharif to hand over the PML-N affairs to Shahbaz Sharif. They have put their weight behind Shahbaz Sharif.”

And, he adds, “This move will help keep the party united”.

The current political situation has thrown many analysts into a frenzy of speculations. Some see the role of the security establishment withering after US President Trump’s new year tweet. Others link the Sharif’s Saudi Arabia visit with agitation threatened by Tahirul Qadri on Model Town tragedy and political instability in Balochistan — which is likely to threaten the upcoming Senate elections, if the assembly is dissolved by Balochistan Governor.

Closely linked to all this is the possible rise of Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. If the court rules in her favour, she could assume an authoritative position in the PML-N politics, where her cousin MNA Hamza Shahbaz Sharif could feel the heat. Though Hamza has been groomed by his father as a seasoned politician with deep understanding of politics in Punjab, Maryam presents a ‘clean character’.

Maryam claimed in her recent interview with a leading American newspaper that she was “meant for a certain role” in the family.

“Maryam Nawaz can lay claim to the PML-N in its entirety, but this will cause a deep crisis between the Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif camps. The Shahbaz camp is often dismissed as having no electoral relevance by people who do not understand the foundation of the PML-N electoral success — which is delivery,” says Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based political commentator.

According to him, Maryam may enjoy some of the charisma and aura of her father, but “she has not spent a day in the executive office and is not a credible source of delivery. She will have to wait and work to earn a name for herself in politics.”

But, whatever direction politics may take in Pakistan, Trump’s outburst on Twitter must not be pushed aside. It will impact politics in the country in coming weeks. “It is something both the civilian as well as the military leadership must worry about,” says Senator Mushahid Hussain. “This regional turmoil, unrest in Afghanistan and Iran in particular, could bring the institutions on a single platform.”

Zahid Gishkori

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