The Challenge For Maryam Nawaz Sharif

The Challenge For Maryam Nawaz Sharif
Before the general elections of 2018, the Dawn leaks of October 2016 that highlighted the confrontation between the civil and military leadership in a high profile national security meeting, as well as the Panama leaks which mentioned a former prime minister’s story of alleged corruption. These two 'leaks' unavoidably changed Pakistan’s political landscape.

A clear line of controversies between the civil and military leadership emerged by then. The establishment’s support for Imran Khan was crystal clear in that scenario. In addition to supporting Imran Khan, the superior judiciary also played a crucial role in overthrowing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and in trying to keep him and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif out of Pakistani politics. But despite these machinations, Maryam Nawaz Sharif is senior vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), and one of the most popular leaders in Pakistan today.

From the sessions court to Supreme Court of Pakistan, a majority of the judges were 'forced' to go against former PM Nawaz Sharif and his daughter. Former Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar put a shameful and dark smudge on the face of Pakistani judiciary, which would never be forgotten. The excesses of judicial activism reduced the Constitution of Pakistan to a mere piece of paper.

It even came to a point that the-then CJP Saqib Nisar used to put pressure on respectable judges who were abiding by the constitution and the law, under various pretexts in order to get Nawaz Sharif out of the political arena, and hand over power to the “laadla”. This is exactly what happened in the 2018 general elections, which violated the sanctity of the vote and handed over the government to Khan by force. The entire nation witnessed how the PTI-led hybrid regime ruined the economy, sowed the seeds of political instability, and exposed our fault lines so much so that today the world has the nerve to call Pakistan a failed state. They do so because Khan continues to shamelessly broadcast Pakistan's alleged failures as a state, and as a nation.

To continue countering Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz Sharif, a systematic propaganda campaign was carried out under the leadership of a powerful and influential officer of the top spy agency. Even Maryam Nawaz Sharif has publicly alleged the former director general of Pakistan’s spy agency ISI, Lt Gen (retd) Faiz Hameed, supported Imran Khan's lust for power. Some sources even concede that over ten thousand paid interns of an organization tasked to conduct a social media campaign against Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was indicted by justifying the 'Panama Leaks' as the principle cause of corruption. And his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif also became a victim of judicial activism, institutional favouritism and partisan lobbying. Consequently, she was sent to jail. Dozens of corruptions cases were registered, in spite of any proof or substantiation, against Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.

From 2018 to 2020, the-then CJP Saqib Nisar pursued every case filed against Nawaz Sharif and his daughter on priority basis. From Rawalpindi to the Supreme Court, every possible effort was made to close the chapter of Sharif family's politics forever, but as we all know, these designs have failed miserably.

Undoubtedly, Maryam Nawaz Sharif proved not only a brave daughter, but an iron lady who faced every injustice and political malpractice courageously. The support Maryam Nawaz gave to her imprisoned father, former PM Nawaz Sharif, in the political field was exceptional, and will be etched with golden letters in the pages of Pakistan's democratic history. Over the past decade, Maryam Nawaz Sharif's courage, perseverance, determination and political maturity gave a new direction to the country's politics. It was Maryam Nawaz Sharif who, along with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, revived the withered plant of democracy in Pakistan.

Judicial favouritism and one-sided attitude of the establishment made Maryam Nawaz even more powerful. The narrative of "Vote ko Izzat Do" or "respect the vote" became the most powerful slogan of the country's politics until 2022, which was neither threatened by fake cases nor weakened by imprisoning her. Banning her public meetings and addresses on media, violating her privacy, blackmailing her by installing secret cameras in her jail bathroom, and imprisoning leaders of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) especially Rana Sanaullah, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Khawaja Saad Rafiq: all these heavy handed tactics brought no fruit to Imran Khan’s politics, to his hybrid regime, and to the establishment that nurtured his rise to power.

Journalists, media channels and businessmen presumed to be close to or affiliated with PMLN were subjected to expulsion from their jobs, censorship, and political vengeance. But Maryam Nawaz Sharif remained committed to her father and her party, proving herself an iron lady who bravely faced all these challenges and suffered silently, unlike the 'popular leader' we see on TV and social media every day.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif, along with other democratic political forces, brought together all the legitimate political parties on the PDM platform for the sake of a strong democracy. The initiative gave a new impetus to democracy in Pakistan, but things went wrong.

Unfortunately after the vote of no confidence in Imran Khan, the political environment changed completely. Everything that was expected turned out to be the opposite. Although Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chairman Mehmood Khan Achakzai has repeatedly reminded Mian Shehbaz Sharif (the incumbent prime minister) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman in the PDM meetings in Karachi and Islamabad that the issue is not to change Imran Khan, but to replace the system that created him through the political and democratic process. A parliament controlled by invisible forces is itself a joke with the Constitution and democracy, and a change of personalities without fixing the core underlying issues will further cripple Pakistan.

After Imran Khan's ouster from the prime minister's office, he initiated a tirade unlike any other, which has brough the political cauldron in the country to a boil. Khan has not spared his political opposition that he has ranted against for a decade, nor did he show any mercy to the institution of his benefactors, who are responsible for selecting him and managing not just his political fortunes, but - according to Imran Khan's own admission - also his government from 2018 till it was sent packing.

The question then isn’t how Shahbez Sharif convinces Nawaz Sharif on the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan, but to what extent Maryam Nawaz Sharif was agreeable in this matter. While hindsight makes us believe that it was a bad decision to take the reins of government after sending Khan home, many are now forced to admit that the PDM parties - the true democratic representatives of the Pakistani people - have to save Pakistan as a state and as a functional economy, while also trying to restore democracy and constitutionalism in the face of continued judicial activism and partisanship.

Whatever the case may be, the powerful narrative "respect the vote" narrative of Nawaz Sharif has ended. Not only that, but the unprecedented political and democratic struggle of Maryam Nawaz Sharif has also been forgotten by the masses, who have been blindsided by the propaganda of PTI and its social media trolls. To be more precise, creating a viable narrative for the PMLN electoral campaign is a big challenge for Maryam Nawaz Sharif. This challenge is not due to the popularity of PTI's always-shifting political positions, but because of the necessity to educate the public and to inform the masses about the real challenges Pakistan now faces due to nearly four years of Imran Khan's incompetent and corrupt regime. Maryam Nawaz Sharif must rally the PMLN rank and file, and especially the youth who look to her and Nawaz Sharif for leadership, to create a new narrative that remains true to the PMLN ideology while exposing the hypocrisies of PTI's everchanging narrative without stooping to viciousness and vulgarity.

Rahim Nasar is an Islamabad-based security and political analyst. He tweets @RahimNasari