Still many a slip between the cup and the lip



Ansar M Bhatti

While the enigmatic circumstances surrounding Shehbaz Sharif’s sudden departure to London continue to perplex, Nawaz Sharif, the supreme leader of PML-N, has unequivocally announced his return to Pakistan on October 21. His intention is not only to participate in the upcoming general elections slated for January 2024 but also to reinvigorate the waning popularity of the party. Nawaz Sharif remains in the spotlight for his audacious remarks regarding the accountability of former military figures, including the former chief of the army staff, former ISI chief, and the future chief justice of Pakistan, should he assume the prime minister’s role for the fourth time.

Analysts speculate that Shehbaz Sharif may have been approached by certain factions, urging him to discuss Nawaz’s stance on these influential figures with his elder brother. Ostensibly, the purpose was to persuade the PML-N leader to reconsider his position, as it could potentially lead to complications upon his return to Pakistan. However, as reports suggest, it appears that this advice has been entirely disregarded.

Nawaz Sharif, along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz and other prominent figures within their political camp, holds a sincere belief that adopting an anti-establishment stance could potentially assist them in regaining popularity. It is undeniable that during their tenure as leaders of the PDM government, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) faced significant challenges and criticism from the general public due to their performance. Given this context, it became imperative for the party to construct a robust narrative capable of rehabilitating its image, which subsequently led to the adoption of an anti-establishment stance.

Whether one approves or disapproves, it is evident that in Pakistan, two narratives can quickly capture public attention and garner substantial support: the anti-America narrative and the anti-Establishment narrative. Nevertheless it’s important to remember that public opinion is diverse, and not everyone in Pakistan may subscribes to these narratives.

The Cipher issue serves as a quintessential illustration of an anti-American narrative. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan strategically constructed his case for removal primarily around the contentious Cipher, almost convincingly asserting that the United States played a role in his ouster—an assertion he later chose to distance himself from. By and large, the prevailing sentiment among the people of Pakistan is a steadfast belief that the United States consistently aligns itself with corrupt and unscrupulous elements within Pakistan’s political landscape and beyond. This perception significantly contributes to the overall unpopularity of the American administration in Pakistan. Historically, there have been scarce instances in Pakistan’s political history where a politician has boldly confronted the superpower head-on. However, Imran Khan’s willingness to do so has resulted in his narrative garnering substantial public support and earning him widespread accolades. At the same time, it’s an undeniable reality that politicians who cling to such narratives often face severe consequences.

The question of why Nawaz Sharif is so optimistic about his party’s return to power in Pakistan is a complex one that demands a thorough examination. Pakistan’s political landscape is dominated by three major parties: PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), and PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party. In summary, Nawaz Sharif’s optimism about the PML-N’s return to power can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the challenges faced by rival parties, their assessment of the establishment’s preferences, their vote bank in key provinces, and strategic political maneuvering. According to the PML-N’s assessment, the Establishment is unlikely to lend its support to PTI. They believe that relations between the Establishment and PTI have deteriorated significantly. Additionally, the PPP is perceived to have a limited voter base outside of Sindh. However, it’s important to note that Pakistan’s political landscape is dynamic and subject to change, and the outcome of future elections will depend on various unpredictable factors.

Even within the PML-N ranks, there is a diversity of opinions, with some staunchly believing that Nawaz Sharif’s anti-establishment narrative could further exacerbate the party’s challenges. Amongst these members, there is a prevailing sentiment that while the narrative might have its merits, the timing of its assertion appears poorly chosen. Enhancing the confrontation with the Establishment at this critical juncture, just as Nawaz Sharif is poised to make a comeback, might prove detrimental to the PML-N’s interests. If this standoff persists in the days ahead, it could possibly force the Establishment to reevaluate its ‘relationship’ with the PML-N. Under such circumstances, the primary beneficiary would likely be none other than the PTI.

It is indeed disheartening that Nawaz Sharif, instead of focusing on fostering an economic revival and promoting a corruption-free Pakistan, opted to confront the Establishment. The core issues facing Pakistan stem from its persistent struggle to eliminate corrupt practices and establish good governance. Additionally, the disregard for the Constitution further compounds the challenges within the system. Unfortunately, there seems to be a reluctance among the elite class to tackle these pressing issues. One potential explanation is that a significant portion of this ruling elite is entangled in the very problems that need to be solved, rather than being part of the solution.

It is disheartening to observe that everyday citizens are shouldering the burden of power struggles between political and non-political stakeholders. The skyrocketing electricity tariffs and the soaring prices of essential goods have made them unaffordable for both the impoverished and the middle to upper-middle classes. Corruption remains a pervasive issue in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. There was a widespread hope that the interim government would alleviate these problems, but so far, it has proven to be less effective than even some of the previously elected administrations.

In the current circumstances, the most viable solution seems to be a return to an elected government through the upcoming general elections. Despite lingering doubts about the January election’s feasibility, the Election Commission of Pakistan and various political parties, have geared up for the electoral process. However, it’s disheartening to note that key PTI leaders are currently in custody, and party members are being actively pursued to prevent their participation in the elections. This situation is regrettable and does not bode well for a stable political landscape.

It’s unequivocal that every political party should be granted unfettered access to the electoral process. This inclusivity is paramount if we are to chart a course toward both political and economic stability for our country.

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