THE sudden arrival of former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif in London, a mere 48 hours after he touched down in Lahore, has raised many eyebrows. His trip adds to the mystery of the Sharif family’s secretive Lahore-London remote management. It is being justifiably asked what compelled the younger Sharif to rush back to Nawaz Sharif, and what message is being given in person that cannot be communicated over a call. Shehbaz Sharif has spent the past month in London, holding frequent meetings with his older brother. In fact, the duo had meetings with their lawyers, who, even after the Supreme Court ruling on the amendments to the NAB law, were hopeful of a satisfactory outcome of Nawaz Sharif’s legal troubles. There has been speculation that the dash to London is to debate Nawaz Sharif’s legal position upon his return. However, it is evident that these discussions already took place during the younger brother’s previous visit.
Interestingly, there are rumours that the latest trip is linked to Nawaz Sharif’s remarks about holding retired generals and judges accountable. These statements must have come as nasty shock to Shehbaz Sharif as he generally refrains from criticising the military establishment, despite his older brother’s different take on the subject. However, even the senior Sharif, apart from criticising the security establishment from the PDM platform on occasion, has been largely silent on issues related to the military leadership. For his part, while in the opposition, Shehbaz Sharif endorsed Gen Bajwa’s extension and, later, was head of a government that endorsed the military trials of civilians. When he returns to Pakistan next month, will Nawaz Sharif’s critical views of the military leadership be intact? Or will his opinions be limited to only those he believes had a hand in his ouster? With the current military leadership’s ire focused on his political rivals, it is convenient for Mr Sharif to restrict his criticism to the previous army leadership. But it is still not known how the institution will respond to his talk of accountability. If Mr Sharif indeed returns next month, the brothers will need to decide what the party’s narrative will be, given how vastly different their views are on the establishment’s role in politics. The PML-N leadership must realise that it cannot continue to play games with the public, especially as people are drowning in economic misery.
Published in Dawn, September 22th, 2023