Return of Nawaz Sharif, a day of hope..

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Return of Nawaz Sharif, a day of hope..

By Qamar Bashir

The tables turned swiftly and unexpectedly against Imran Khan and the PTI. Nawaz Sharif, who had been in self-imposed exile in London for over four years, was transformed from a declared absconder and disqualified for life from electoral contests into a free man.

His arrival was marked with grand receptions by associates, loyal followers, and the public, symbolizing a night of celebration and a day of hope across the country. In a remarkable public address, he assured the establishment that he harbors no intentions of seeking political revenge. While outlining his economic agenda, he pledged to continue with his prior policies, likely with the same team.

When discussing foreign policy, he emphasized the futility of maintaining an antagonistic stance toward neighboring nations. Instead, he advocated for breaking the cycle of dependency and harnessing Pakistan’s abundant natural, divine, and human resources for progress and prosperity.

Although not explicitly stated, he alluded to the consequences of those responsible for his downfall three times and warned against a repeat scenario for the fourth time. His confident demeanor, the warm reception at the airport, official protocols, and exuberance conveyed a resounding message: Nawaz Sharif has returned to the political arena with renewed vigor, especially with his potential challengers neutralized.

In a remarkable turn of events, a fate that appeared nearly impossible just a few months ago was transformed into a potential reality. The same strategy that was once employed to turn the judiciary, laws, and constitution against Nawaz Sharif was now used in reverse, effectively altering the constitutional landscape and institutions to his advantage. This remarkable shift allowed him to return from exile, fully exonerated and free of any charges, akin to a rebirth.

Nawaz Sharif, who had been a vocal and staunch opponent of the Establishment, had consistently held them responsible for engineering his removal in 2017. He accused them of colluding with the judiciary to convict him in multiple corruption cases, leading to his lifetime disqualification from politics and subsequent exile in London. Surprisingly, the enduring animosity was set aside, and both sides forgave and forgot. The Establishment, despite its longstanding enmity, became Nawaz Sharif’s proponents, facilitators, and supporters in his journey back to power. This once again exemplifies that, much like in international relations, in domestic politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies.

This seemingly implausible turn of events was achieved through the unwavering determination, resilience, intelligence, and leadership of Maryam Nawaz, and none other. Her steadfast narrative, echoed by all PML(N) leaders without exception, maintained that their leader had been innocent from the very outset. They contended that during Nawaz Sharif’s tenure, the country had made significant progress and was poised for remarkable growth. They argued that a dubious plan was concocted as an experiment to elevate Imran Khan to power. To pave the way for his ascent, baseless and frivolous cases were fabricated against Nawaz Sharif. Ultimately, through collusion and subjugation of the judiciary, he was unseated, imprisoned, and disqualified for life on charges that belied constitutional and legal principles, effectively casting aside the foundations of justice.

Their demand is straightforward: the reversal of all unconstitutional, unlawful, and arbitrary actions that had been used to remove Nawaz Sharif from power. They seek to rectify the injustices committed against him and the nation, restoring him to the same position from which he was ousted. Moreover, they call for an examination of all omissions and commissions that facilitated the rise of the PTI and the placement of Imran Khan in power.

This once seemingly impossible and unattainable narrative was gradually woven into reality through the sheer merit of Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who displayed remarkable grit, tenacity, courage, and determination even in the face of daunting and formidable adversity. She orchestrated the political landscape with exceptional finesse, strategically positioning her power players and leveraging them effectively and intelligently. Her moves were marked by mastery, precision, and creativity, all executed at the right moments with strength and meticulous calibration to achieve the desired outcomes.

First, she succeeded in fully exonerating her father, Nawaz Sharif, while confining Imran Khan to a political cage, dismantling his party, removing him from the mainstream media, ensnaring him in numerous legal entanglements, and rendering his return seemingly impossible—much like how Nawaz Sharif’s return appeared infeasible just days ago.

Once she had silenced Imran Khan, she adeptly shaped public opinion, maintained the core party leadership largely intact with a few notable exceptions, managed to keep the establishment content, curtailed her father’s outbursts against the establishment, adroitly manipulated the media landscape, and kept potential contenders for the premiership at bay.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif was well aware that her father’s once-impossible return to Pakistan was riddled with uncertainties and complicated by legal issues, with a looming risk of his arrest shortly after setting foot in the country. This apprehension was explicitly articulated by the caretaker interior minister, who initially stated that Nawaz Sharif, being a convicted individual, was likely to be apprehended upon his return. However, following a stern rebuke from PML(N) leadership and reprimand from the establishment, the minister promptly retracted his initial statement.

One of the primary challenges Maryam Nawaz Sharif faced was gaining the support of a truncated parliament, which consisted of numerous parties, some of which had a history of intense rivalry with the PML(N), particularly the PPP. Maryam strategically utilized parliament to pass crucial laws, including the Supreme Court Practices and Procedure Act of 2023, which provided her father with an opportunity to appeal his conviction and lifetime disqualification. She was well aware that these laws could not supersede or bypass the constitution, but this was a necessary step to pave the way for Nawaz Sharif’s return. Collaborating closely with the establishment, Maryam secured a safe return for her father, facilitated his protective bail, and set the stage for his reentry into politics and a potential fourth term as Prime Minister.

In exchange for this favor, the PML(N) granted the establishment an extensive range of powers, legitimizing their involvement in civilian matters. This involved appointing both active and retired military officers to key civilian positions and providing legal cover for their roles in financial and economic disciplines.

The Official Secrets (Amendment) Act, 2023 broadens the definition of national security breaches and grants intelligence agencies the authority to conduct raids and detain individuals. The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023 allows the military’s intelligence agencies to search individuals or places without a warrant and criminalizes defamation of the armed forces. The National Security Act, 2023 establishes a National Security Council and provides the government with the power to detain those deemed threats to national security. The amendments to the Board of Investment Act, 2023 include involving the army chief in trade and investment decisions, and the National Logistics Corporation Act, 2023 gives the army a monopoly on logistical support. The E-Safety Bill, 2023 addresses online offenses, while the Cantonments (Amendment) Bill, 2023 refines existing frameworks.

In tandem with these efforts, Maryam successfully lobbied for a significant softening of the Accountability Law, leading to the dismissal of numerous NAB cases against her family, including allegations of financial corruption, money laundering, and misuse of public funds. This led to the exoneration of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the dismissal of a seven-year prison sentence and a substantial fine for Maryam herself, and the clearance of Suleman Shehbaz in a money laundering case. A reinvestigation by the FIA also found Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza “innocent” in another money laundering case. These calculated moves were instrumental in achieving her objectives.

Simultaneously, while skillfully negotiating with the establishment, Maryam engaged in a determined campaign against a non-compliant judiciary. She openly defied the Supreme Court’s directive to hold Punjab Assembly elections within 90 days of dissolution, effectively sowing divisions among Supreme Court judges and emboldening other stakeholders to disregard the court’s orders. This strategic maneuver created a pretext for delaying the elections, ensuring that the PML(N) could participate when fully prepared and in a position of strength, aligning with Maryam’s political objectives.

The Pakistani government employed a multi-faceted approach to manipulate the media landscape in favor of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N) and against Imran Khan. This strategy included media censorship through various coercive tactics, offering financial incentives to compliant outlets, appointing PML-N sympathizers to key media positions, legally harassing critical journalists, and even resorting to violence and intimidation. As a result, the media’s bias in favor of the PML-N was palpable in their coverage of Imran Khan, often depicting him negatively while downplaying or ignoring stories critical of the PML-N.

Having brought her father back safely, Maryam has now set the stage for Nawaz Sharif to make his move. However, the path ahead is riddled with complexities, and the outcome remains uncertain. Nawaz Sharif, who has had a tumultuous history with the Pakistani military, having been ousted from power on three occasions, will need to tread carefully and find common ground with the military if he aims to secure a fourth term as Prime Minister.

Addressing Pakistan’s pressing economic challenges, including high inflation and a growing debt burden, will be paramount in improving the lives of ordinary citizens. The deeply divided political landscape in Pakistan necessitates Sharif to build a broad coalition, reaching out to opposition parties and finding consensus on a range of issues.

Moreover, considering his age and past health issues, Sharif’s physical well-being will be a critical factor in managing the demands of the office.

In the face of these multifaceted challenges, Nawaz Sharif’s future as Prime Minister hinges on his ability to unite the nation and effectively navigate these complexities. Failure to do so could once again lead to his removal from office by the military, mirroring his past experiences.

By Qamar Bashir

Press Secretary to the President (Rtd)

Former Press Minister at Embassy of Pakistan to France

Former MD, SRBC