IT has to be a landmark in the political journey of Ms Maryam Nawaz. A Chinese deputy minister in Pakistan kind of informally inaugurated her week when he singled out the rising lady of the Sharif household as an ideal guest to visit his country.
“We will be looking forward to welcoming Pakistan Muslim League-N’s delegation in China next year. We will be happy if you include your talented daughter Ms Maryam Nawaz in the visiting delegation.” Thus read the caption with a picture by the official APP news agency, which was duly carried by major papers here. Not just that the image was quickly used to measure both the Chinese vision and Ms Maryam’s potential to best represent her country and in what capacities.
It was all quite according to form. We have already decided that no one better understands what remedies we must adopt than our friends watching over us in China. It is now almost natural for them to pinpoint, in Pakistan’s interests, some of the directions we should take.
This is not in any way to suggest that the brains of Beijing are ever negligent of their own interests. We have Pakistani ministers forever telling us that there are certain things — such as aspects to the CPEC — that cannot be forced upon the Chinese. We are told that ultimately it was their money and they obviously had a say in how they wanted it done, and what they wanted to do first.
It is remarkable just how fast Maryam Nawaz has travelled on the highway to where she is, or soon will be.
It can be said then that the honourable vice minister, Mr Zheng Xiaosong, must have had an eye on the future when he urged the prime minister’s daughter to book a seat for herself among the PML-N delegation flying out to our current dreamland.
It is remarkable just how fast Ms Maryam Nawaz has travelled on the highway to where she is, or soon will be, compared to a young Ms Benazir Bhutto travelling with her father to Shimla.
Only a few years ago, the only Sharif lady who commanded respect for any political act of hers was Ms Maryam’s mother, Ms Kulsoom Nawaz, by some accounts and estimates the calmest and most graceful of the Sharif politicians to have ever been seen in public. Now it seems the daughter’s transformation from a life largely in the shadows to where it is difficult to take the spotlight off her has simply been a matter of one single decision. The question was only if her mentors and she herself wanted to do it. The rest fell in place as if by magic.
Ms Maryam Nawaz started off her political career in earnest with something she said she didn’t need to do. She was in charge of her father’s election campaign in 2013, at the same time claiming that Mian Sahib was so sure of winning that his workers didn’t need to canvass. Just to recap quickly, the move was widely believed to have been necessitated by Imran Khan’s appeal to the impressionable youth, with the skipper choosing to field against the next prime minister a woman who was there to greet the young upon their arrival: gynaecologist Dr Yasmeen Rashid.
The seat was as predicted secured by Mr Nawaz Sharif and some in the audience thought that it was as good as over for Ms Maryam Nawaz. She was inevitably compared with her mother who had quietly faded away from the stage after bailing out her husband and his relatives after the 1999 coup by Gen Pervez Musharraf and after playing a suspected role in bringing Mr Nawaz Sharif and Ms Benazir Bhutto together from where they went on to sign their Charter of Democracy.
Ms Maryam, fortunately for those who want a change of faces and infusion of fresh blood in politics here, was there to stay and shine and control and exercise authority — according to various projections of her movement. She was apparently one of the go-to persons when Mian Sahib was indisposed and had to undergo open heart surgery.
According to many news reports, she along with the most trusted lieutenant Mr Ishaq Dar and uncle, the indomitable Shahbaz Sharif, was responsible for running the operations of the federal government smoothly. So much so that some of the observers were encouraged to say that with caretakers like them the prime minister could extend his ‘leave’ from office and allow his body more time to regain strength.
It was around the same time that some of us began wondering out loud if she could be groomed as a future prime minister. Once again it was more a question of whether she and her mentors wanted her to train for that job or not. Nobody thought that the rest would fall in place as perfectly and automatically as it did when she decided to take the plunge in active, visible politics, but the pundits did believe she had a very good chance of sneaking her way to the top.
The movement has since been a little limited, as if the selection board is still debating whether to use the option and when. Ms Maryam, in the meanwhile, has been credited with fighting and winning bouts much under her weight category. For instance, after the she was forced to give up the leadership of a youth loan programme under court censure, she has been credited with running a media cell known for its aggressive, mercilessly belligerent tackling of criticism of the government. She has been one of the most quoted voices proudly hailing the performance of her father in Islamabad, and it seems increasingly of late, of her uncle in Lahore.
This is as good an opportunity as PML-N would have hoped for. Mr Xiaosong’s invitation must bring Ms Maryam close to Mr Shahbaz Sharif, the most energetic, actually incomparable believer in China’s role of taking Pakistan towards emancipation. It is not for no reason that the pair occupies the foreground of the picture whose caption has the minister from Beijing recognising Pakistani talent. We are in for some exciting times.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2016