Mixed signals?

14 Nov 2020

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IS the direction shifting, or does the main target remain a security establishment that is loath to distance itself from warring politicians? In the most significant press interview of her political career so far, Ms Maryam Nawaz ruled out dialogue with Prime Minister Imran Khan. Although unwilling to go into the specifics of it, she appeared confident that an exit for Prime Minister Khan was just around the corner. Done with this task, she would not be unwilling to engage with the security establishment and called for a transparent dialogue between the powers that be and her PML-N and the opposition PDM alliance as a whole. The PML-N vice president said that a dialogue was already underway in which the people of this country were participating. There were many ‘revealing’ moments in the interview to the BBC in which Ms Nawaz referred to ‘her army’ and trained her guns rather exclusively on the ‘(s)elected’ chief executive of the government. What she is offered was a far more diluted version of the PML-N’s narrative vis-à-vis the defence establishment as opposed to the brash face Mr Sharif has chosen to present, leaving many to wonder whether a door had been left slightly ajar for a compromise of sorts.

But such conjectures were quickly dispelled on Friday, with Mr Sharif in full form. At a rally in Swat, in which he participated through video link, the PML-N leader, while saying he did not hold the entire military responsible for the deeds of some, named names and demanded answers from those elements he held responsible for bringing a ‘puppet’ prime minister to power. He asserted that he did not want answers from Mr Khan but from those who pulled the strings. Ms Nawaz spoke as well, gunning for the prime minister as she did in her interview to the BBC, as well as the interior minister for his recent controversial remarks about the ANP. Is it part of a plan then? For the father to focus on the establishment and the daughter on the present dispensation and governance under Mr Sharif as compared to that under the current rulers? Is the departure of Prime Minister Khan Ms Nawaz’s priority, and the targeting of the establishment Mr Sharif’s? Or do these two goals come together seamlessly as the PML-N’s narrative? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the conflict between the opposition and government is turning uglier by the day, with the government — from a multitude of spokespersons to the prime minister himself — hitting back. With so much anger all around, with allegations and deep mistrust on all sides, with ugly rhetoric, and the refusal to talk to each other, matters will continue to worsen in an atmosphere of deep political uncertainty. Some midway point has to be reached before it’s too late.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2020