IT could not have been more misleading than this. The image placed on display shows Mian Nawaz Sharif as having turned his back on us. In reality, he and his party may just be preparing to re-enter the fray in a big way to pose a potent threat to the incumbents.
A debate has been going on about why and how he found the escape route to the London restaurant where he was spotted. He was out trying to get some fresh air in the company of his trusted lieutenants who, the story goes, have only recently been asked to take a fresh oath of loyalty and secrecy.
Back home, a mix of long-drawn and happy Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz faces go through the rituals of explaining yet another loss of opportunity to establish civilian supremacy in the country.
An opportunity lost is redemption option kindled again. The forever mistaken and often wayward progressive elite go on adding this latest instance of unity among politicians over the extension bills to the long list of betrayals that they have suffered.
Only the knowledgeable know all too well. This marks the start of a new phase in the life of Mian Sahib, or his party or both of them.
The PML-N leader has had a good time of it in his adversarial role. The status of a born-again democrat fighting the establishment, flanked by his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, and old-world ‘leftists’ such as Pervaiz Rashid, must have provided the good old Mian Sahib a taste of how it is like on the other side.
The drift must stop now. In fact the wind that led him astray might have already ceased to blow.
A correction is in order. The recent act of support for the extension law could well be the first small step which could ultimately lead to the rehabilitation of the Sharif clan to their old stake-holding position in the country’s ruling set-up. It could well be followed by a series of occurrences aimed at a return to the origins.
Going along with the sign the picture relayed from the latest huddle for a breath of fresh air, this could well be a journey in reverse.
Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in person or his party, led most likely by his brother Shahbaz, could well be on the way to trying and reclaiming their original place as the first choice in the list of candidates seeking the kingmaker’s blessings in return for the most efficient services.
Those who do not approve of the idea are already seeking to block this backward progress. They are keen to recall just how irresponsible and disrespectful the Sharif dynasty has been with regard to the state and national interests and how very unthankful for the favours lavished on them by their promoters.
Sympathetic names in the media, ministers, et al, appear to have been jolted. Some of them seem to be already warming up to launch into the campaign to block the Sharifs’ way, the most enthusiastic among them rushing into it with their boots on.
For a specimen of their armoury, try seeing through this one-liner by a tabdeeli-prone television anchor: he warns the kingmakers against the sheer ignominy of a Momin having been bitten by the same snake a second time. That would more likely be the main theme for the defence of Imran Khan’s status as the only eligible candidate to run the front shop of power.
A likely full rehabilitation could well take the rebellious gloss off the current effort by a selection of PML-N leaders to still paint their outfit as establishment-resistant. But by comparison with the noise they created not too long ago, they are today found indulging in a low-intensity chorus.
They quietly complain how they were forced into supporting the bills for extension in the services chiefs’ tenure. They may be allowed to keep this back-burner on, lest circumstances change drastically, and it becomes necessary to return to intense resistance mode.
For the moment this much-needed left flank in the PML-N is represented chiefly by the likes of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who must be seen to be in conflict with the more pliable Sharif allies such as Khwaja Asif. Members may join or leave the group if and when necessary. Maryam Nawaz could well be allowed to put on her old revolutionary cloak.
Along with having the resistance plank in working order, this could allow Mian Shahbaz Sharif the space he needs within his party to carry forward his rescue, rehabilitation and reconciliation policies.
Perhaps for some time, Mian Nawaz Sharif will have to stay in the shadows, ostensibly with his face turned away from the proceedings.
But these are precautions at the outset of a return journey. A little further on, the PML-N leadership may realise that they would be much better concentrating on the main thrust, the Shahbaz Sharif thrust.
They may rest assured that as far as the small matter of having public support for their rehab and eventual return as the country’s rulers is concerned, they have the facts on their side.
Just as Mian Sahib offered his `resistance’, those of his supporters who have stood by him since the Zia days till now must have found a reconfirmation of just how absolutely imperative it is for the PML-N to have the establishment on its side. And just as this public opinion about the PML-N, essentially the Sharifs, was being formed, the current incumbents in power were really struggling to live up to their reputation as the other alternative.
There must be people in Prime Minster Imran Khan’s team who would agree that a PML-N promising to behave can be more destructive than a Mian Sahib in defiance mode. They would be justified in raising the alarm now than rue later.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2020