Points to ponder, Maryam

23 Aug 2020


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

DID NAB revive Maryam Nawaz’s fortunes, or were those images from Lahore no more than a flash in the pan? Whatever it was, the incident made clear that Maryam Nawaz is her father’s political heir apparent and stole a march on all other pretenders to the throne in the PML-N.

It has long been believed that while Shahbaz Sharif is a top-drawer administrator, there are doubts about his ability to lead. Those doubts were confirmed the day Nawaz Sharif and his daughter returned to Pakistan on July 14, 2018, after that accountability court verdict.

Shahbaz Sharif was supposed to lead the at least 50,000 supporters gathered in Lahore in a strong protest against the sentencing of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz and use street power to put pressure on the military for concessions and fair elections.

Commentators were confounded by what transpired. Shahbaz Sharif led the protesters well away from the airport and they kept going round in circles several kilometres away, while his brother and niece landed in Lahore, were arrested and flown to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail.

As a young leader who will not just lead her party but may also head the opposition or a possible coalition, there is something she may consider.

Thousands of charged supporters could not even give a perfunctory headache to the authorities. Perhaps assurances given to some in the PML-N were naively believed, such as that the party would be ‘given’ Punjab in the elections 11 days later depending on its ‘behaviour’.

For this to materialise, the history of the past three decades would have had to be defied. Since 1990, the establishment has not plotted the ouster of a civilian, elected government and vilified its leaders to let it back in the saddle in the centre or in any province in the elections that followed.

In any case, Shahbaz Sharif was not being hypocritical. He has never made any bones about his desire to work with the establishment rather than confront it as, he believes, confrontation is fraught with dangers and has already cost the party and his family dearly.

Equally, it has been clear to all that the PML-N vote bank belongs to Nawaz Sharif and, after him, the vote puller who has the capacity to galvanise the grassroots support base is Maryam Nawaz, as was evident in the passion of her supporters at NAB this month.

So, it is to be expected from the keepers of the PML-N vote bank to raise the ‘vote ko izzat do’ slogan that both father and daughter have not tired of doing. Implicit in the slogan is their message of defiance, and of constitutional civilian supremacy that resonates with their supporters.

And, despite speculation on why Ms Nawaz has been silent for so long and talk of a deal with the establishment that enabled the gravely ill Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad for life-saving treatment, the news conference that followed the NAB incident was not a tame affair.

The ‘vote ko izzat do’ slogan was heard again. Whenever Maryam Nawaz breaks her silence, she refuses to mince her words. But, as a young leader who will not just lead her party for years to come but may also head the opposition or a possible coalition in the future, there is something she may consider.

During her news conference she described the incident where the police stoned her armoured SUV as the ‘worst’ attack of Pakistan’s 70 plus-year history; at a different point she said nobody had sacrificed more than Nawaz Sharif in the country’s entire political history.

There is no denying he has been ousted from power more than once, vilified, persecuted, sentenced in dodgy trials, forced into exile, barred from attending his father’s funeral and lost his wife while imprisoned thousands of miles away from her hospital bed.

But surely there are others in the country’s democratic struggle, from workers to leaders, who have sacrificed no less or, to be honest, possibly much more.

Just to name a few who have paid the ultimate price, and I am sure the omissions are far greater in number, worthier in their sacrifice: Hasan Nasir, Asad Mengal, Nazir Abbasi, Bhuttos, one executed in what was later called a judicial murder, another who was twice targeted by suicide bombers and lost her life in the second attack, besides several dozens of her supporters. Those attacks could qualify as the worst in Pakistan’s history.

Benazir Bhutto’s two brothers were killed in the prime of their youth. One can’t even imagine what their mother, Begum Nusrat Bhutto went through. Her own iconic image is of her bleeding from her head after being hit by the police in Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, protesting Zia’s martial law.

Ms Nawaz’s own mother Kulsoom Nawaz’s car was attacked and lifted high by a crane and carried away, endangering her, while she was sitting in it and leading protesters against the military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Among those who have given their life for Pakistan and people’s rights is Nawab Akbar Bugti and innumerable Baloch leaders and activists; the house of Bilours in Peshawar have also written a glorious chapter with their blood; as has the family of PTM MNA Ali Wazir.

The list is endless and includes those disappeared from different parts of the country (for merely dreaming of an egalitarian system in which their rights are respected) and found tortured, killed and dumped. And, painfully, those who remain missing without a trace.

Ms Nawaz could do her own research. She could also ask a dedicated political worker-leader such as Senator Pervez Rashid to help. She seems destined for a bigger political role in her party and country, as it will be impossible to keep her out permanently.

The quality of her leadership will hinge on her sense of history and her knowledge of the heroic struggle of so many over the years for the cherished democratic rights of the people.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2020