IT is all in the name. One cannot really take Mian Nawaz Sharif out of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

The former prime minister inspires his followers with political values and a style all his own; in fact, these have seen him scale ever newer heights in Pakistan’s corridors of power.

Even though Shahbaz Sharif is considered to have been the biggest recipient of his older brother’s coaching, the Punjab chief minister’s appointment as PML-N president in dynastic fashion may still not be deemed to reflect a true Sharifian continuation.

The Nawaz element must be seen to be fully reinforced and operative.

And so, when Shahbaz Sharif took over the reins of the party on Tuesday it was thought necessary to also elevate Nawaz Sharif to the position of PML-N’s eternal guide.

It is, ultimately, Mr Sharif’s party even when his bright understudy appears to be leading it to fulfil a condition that is required by the law.

The moment throws up new possibilities and challenges, just as it brings back memories of how the party came to represent Mian Nawaz Sharif over the years.

The challenges, including those faced now and previously during the rule of Gen Pervez Musharraf, are remarkable given the rather inauspicious handing over of power to a young Nawaz Sharif in the 1980s.

At that time, the reins were quite literally snatched away from the gentle grasp of Muhammad Khan Junejo and given to the man who had proven to be a keen and obedient student of the art of politics during Gen Ziaul Haq’s time and under the military dictator’s patronage.

The crucial turn came in the 1988 general election in which this chief of the biggest PML faction allowed himself to be used by the establishment to contain Benazir Bhutto’s PPP.

Not only was he able to contain the PPP’s presence in the National Assembly, Mr Sharif shocked and defeated the party in the 1988 polls in the Punjab Assembly too.

This singularly significant incident in history had a defining effect on the PML-N’s fortunes and put it on the road to where it finds itself today — as, perhaps, the most popular political party of Punjab since independence.

But it is not about the party — it’s about the man, whose decision it is primarily to set the direction for his successor as party chief.

Yes, the loyal younger brother is known to have a mind of his own but as the new president of the PML-N he cannot be expected to practise his reconciliatory craft in a way that overwhelms Nawaz Sharif’s visibly popular agitation.

It has to be a careful mix. The younger Sharif should be intelligent enough to understand that right now, politics and the times demand that he appear to play a true custodian of his brother’s interests.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2018

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