Nawaz Sharif’s return?

Published December 26, 2021

THE rumours of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif’s return from London have started swirling since he remarked at the end of a recent speech to his party members that he would be seeing them soon. This comes in the wake of a growing perception — fanned gleefully by various PML-N leaders themselves — that a deal is near and the days of the PTI government are numbered.

There is no solid evidence so far that this may be so, and no one has come forward to confirm that a fresh move is afoot to de-seat the government, but the fact that many responsible people like the former speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq are dropping broad hints about an imminent change means that there is something happening behind closed doors. Government spokespersons are rubbishing such claims and daring Nawaz Sharif to return and face jail.

Read: How can a convict become PM, wonders PM Imran

It is, however, clear that the former prime minister’s return, whenever it happens, will be timed for maximum political effect. He and his supporters know full well that he has to serve his term in prison unless he is given legal remedy. His consistent demand has been a free and fair election and nothing short of that. While many in the opposition ranks now feel that the only way out of the grim political and economic situation is for the parties to seek a fresh mandate, the government believes its interests are served by completing its five-year term.

In this respect, Mr Sharif has a moral obligation to return to Pakistan as per his promise when leaving for London to get medical treatment. From the looks of it he seems to be in decent health which means there should not be anything stopping him from fulfilling the commitment he gave to the courts. The recent talk of his return is therefore a welcome sign.

The government’s reaction though seems on the contrary. Any talk of a deal that brings about a change in Islamabad can surely trigger nervousness in the PTI leadership. The weak state of the economy and the crippling rate of inflation will get accentuated if the government can have the money bill passed by parliament to fulfil the requirements of the IMF. This would unleash another round of inflation and further burden the citizenry. The PTI parliamentarians are full aware of the negative impact this would have on their voters and how it would deplete whatever political capital is left with them. Rumours of Mr Sharif’s return at such a moment when the government is vulnerable to all kinds of shocks makes people in the PTI very concerned. This is why the next few weeks are crucial. If the return of Nawaz Sharif becomes apparent, it would signal that a fresh move is underway against the government and the political cards are ready to be reshuffled.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2021

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