Islamabad: PTI chief Imran Khan has committed too much in the NA-120 elections, arguing the results will amply demonstrate whether masses support the Sharifs (whom he alleges as plunderers of national wealth) or side with the apex judiciary that has disqualified former premier Nawaz Sharif and sent his and family’s cases to NAB for trial. The analogy is strange. While Imran talks big and loud keeping true to his track record of past months and years, PTI insiders feel they have got a very little chance to stage a win in the constituency where political stakes are very high for the Sharifs. They, however, face fewer uncertainties as far as the expected election results are concerned. On a pragmatic note, however, it would be very difficult for Imran to justify his overwhelming political rhetoric regarding NA-120 if his party loses the elections with a heavy margin. But his narrative regarding linking the by-elections to the Panama case verdict is likely to fall flat on Sunday night as the results pour in.
Look at the larger picture. In the run-up to the next elections, the luckiest of the survivalists from the accountability grind amongst the Sharif family would matter and team up to face the PTI Chief Imran Khan’s mounting political challenge. Interestingly, Begum Kulsum Nawaz is the safest bet for the Sharif family who wants to retain former premier Nawaz Sharif’s seat in Sunday (today) by-elections from NA-120. Not a novice in politics, she faced Musharraf regime as well as conspiracies of top Leaguers when her husband, son, Shahbaz Sharif were behind bars after the 1999 military coup. But she stayed away from active politics after the family went into exile in December 2000 -- even after Sharifs’ homecoming at the end of the year 2007. And then it could be Salman Shahbaz, the younger son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who could represent his family and team up with Begum Kulsum in the times of crisis if the accountability fallout in the next few months is too ruthless to control for both the families. A businessman, Salman has stayed away from politics this far. But circumstances might compel him in near future to tread this treacherous road. At this point of time, the families have reportedly shunned differences for the collective good and survival. Till then, it is Imran Khan versus Begum Kulsum Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz for days, weeks, maybe months to come -- till their political fortunes last. Imran and aides could sense it coming for quite a while, and that’s why they were trying to pull Maryam Nawaz down through Panama case. For their own reasons, the Sharifs were, however, reluctant to launch her formally in political arena throughout the last few years. But it had to happen by default. For her part, Maryam Nawaz knows the political adversaries and hidden hands are out there to halt her march in politics. Rest heavily depends on the game of thrones, how it is played out and decisively molded by the lady luck having a final say to sway the political fortune in any one’s favor.
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The NA-120 by-election is, however, a test of nerves and skills for Maryam until Begum Kulsum takes over after recovering fully from the present medical conditions. Though, the constituency is a relatively easy political turf from where Maryam’s father and his political aides have never lost during the last 30 years. But the challenge before her is not to post a win but a decisive one that will establish her as a politician as well election campaigner without the active support of her chief minister uncle Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza. And all this amidst little games being played and orchestrated by the hidden and not so invisible hands having fielded small but pinching irritants like Milli Muslim League just to send out a clear message of an unlimited confrontational path ahead. More of a tit for tat approach till elder Sharif comes to terms with them or prefers to become a brave heart to face any eventuality.
As far as the constituency is concerned, the main political battle is between PML-N and PTI with PPP becoming an insignificant sidekick despite all the rhetoric of elder Zardari sahib. As the forces zero in on Maryam in the post DawnLeaks days, their main target is to narrow down Begum Kulsum’s win margin. For now, it might be the first step of a series of their conspiracies in store to dent Maryam’s political ascendancy.
Sunday’s NA-120 Lahore elections may have been just another by-election had it not been a seat vacated by former premier Nawaz Sharif. He still fumes with anger with the way, under the pretext, he was disqualified. That forced him to stage a successful GT Road march in early August, criticized forcefully by his political adversaries, and abhorred openly as well as secretly by the powerful circles that matter. The seat and the political fortunes weaved around it at this point in time, has increased its significance manifold, almost given it a center stage due to political jolts country has undergone since July 28 disqualification of the former premier Nawaz Sharif. Look at the political significance of this by-election. It was to elect Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab Chief Minister, as the next premier by the end of this September. It was announced in the PML-N parliamentary party by none other than Nawaz Sharif amid thunderous applause. And acknowledged happily by Shahbaz Sharif and rest, then and there. But was taken back in a mysterious fashion. Apparent logic behind the move was not to weaken the Punjab province through the departure of Shahbaz as the 2018 elections were just around the corner. But Sharif family insiders blamed reversal of Shahbaz’s ascendancy to the premiership on the absence of any power-sharing agreement between Nawaz and Shahbaz families -- the same having been chalked out lately in London. That enables the straightforward and reliable Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to retain the position of prime minister till the PML-N government lasts even when he is being threatened in a bizarre fashion on account of “Qatar LNG contract” by political pawns of “hidden hands” like Sheikh Rashid . But what a twist of fate this constituency has brought about within days. Now, Begum Kulsum Nawaz becomes PML-N candidate from the seat, and Maryam Nawaz gets the chance to emerge as party leader and heir apparent of the elder Sharif.
An undeclared, reluctant political entity who for months and years worked behind the scenes (on media strategy and social media to counter PTI trolls) to strengthen her father Nawaz Sharif’s politics, Maryam is now in the real political arena by default. The disqualification of her father as premier by Supreme Court on July 28 and subsequent election from his vacant NA-120 seat opened up political prospects for Maryam, but a bit late. Some in the PML-N opine she should have been formally launched much earlier. These are testing times for the Sharif family as Supreme Court rejects their review petition in Panama Case and they are all set to face accountability courts in the days to come. Maryam needs to arm herself with a lot of political tactics, maneuverings, and experience on a fast track basis before she could stand up fully to face Imran in the political arena in 2018, and that too if she survives the accountability grind. In that scenario too, she would enjoy the full political backing of her father and uncle too. Until then, she has to heavily rely on the political legacy, the popularity of her father, former premier Nawaz Sharif who is down but not out. And has recovered politically to a great extent because of the GT road march, irrespective of the fact what the political adversaries opine. Imran, at the peak of his political career, especially after Panama case’s political success, enjoys the tacit support of powerful circles. Some of his informed aides, however, fear he may run out of favors from these powerful entities soon if a near future deal demands “minus two” after Sharif’s ouster which was by all accounts “minus one” as per Pakistani political diction. As of now, whatever adversaries may think of him, Imran is for sure a formidable heavy weight of the Pakistani politics, and leading opposition light. He has been through the thick of things, ruled out as a political non-entity for 15 odd years till power circles decided to prop him up and bet on his political fortunes. Then all the forces under the powerful circles joined hands to give a popular new leader to the Pakistani public. Maryam, on the other hand, has to take a great leap forward and earn her place especially when her uncle Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab Chief Minister, is preparing to fill in the void for elder brother Nawaz Sharif as party president as well as potential future premier. She may have to settle as a second in command of Shahbaz Sharif in post-2018 elections scenario if PML-N is able to stage a comeback. Or adapt to the contours of the power-sharing agreement between Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif’s family -- the details of which have lately been chalked out in London . She, however, enjoys one great edge for being a chosen one of the House of Sharifs, with all the political fortune, struggle and popularity of her father to back her up, under the careful , watchful eyes of Begum Kulsum Nawaz.
Unlike Imran, his emerging political rival, Maryam Nawaz is still heir apparent of the former premier Nawaz Sharif. Not declared formally as the torch bearer of Sharif’s political fortune. Imran, on the other hand, has come from strength to strength, wandering in the political wilderness for 15 plus years till powerful circles finally decided to patronize him as a counter weight for Sharifs and Zardaris.