This is my back-to-back second column on the return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan. In my last column, I left the conclusion incomplete, leaving at the sweet will of Mian Sahib to take the final decision. Following the publication of the column, several political figures from all parties said that the presence of Mian Sahib in Pakistan in the coming elections would make the election competitive.
The towering figure of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), has been absent from the tumultuous arena of Pakistani politics for quite some time now. In November 2019, the Buzdar government transferred him from jail to a hospital due to his illness. Later, he was granted bail and left for London to receive treatment under court orders.
During his prolonged absence, Imran Khan’s government and Punjab Health Minister Yasmin Rashid had claimed that Nawaz Sharif’s life was in grave danger. As the public had no access to Nawaz Sharif at that time, many people believed the government’s claims and showed their support for him. However, later on, Imran Khan and his colleagues claimed that Nawaz Sharif had faked his illness. The truth of the matter remains unknown, but Nawaz Sharif stayed in London throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following a change in government and military leadership, many people expected Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan immediately. However, his party members claimed that he would return only when his doctor allowed. This delay caused a severe decline in the popularity of the PML-N while Imran Khan’s popularity began to rise.
The government’s propaganda capacity and media policy played a significant role in the decline of Nawaz Sharif’s party. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) were ruling at that time, and Zardari and Maulana had secured profitable ministries for themselves, leaving ministries like the economy, interior, and information to the PML-N. Consequently, the debris of inflation and other issues has fallen on the PML-N, and they have been tasked with cleaning up the media.
To counter this decline, Maryam Nawaz was brought into the political fray. She is a brave and well-spoken politician and is a crowd-puller. However, she cannot be a substitute for the towering personality of Nawaz Sharif, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for her to work with senior leaders of the Muslim League. Additionally, the party’s leadership in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is divided into two factions. The provincial president, Amir Maqam, and other leaders are on one side, while former Chief Minister and Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, former Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Abdul Subhan, and Arbab Khizr Hayat have raised the flag of rebellion against them.
In this context, the only way for the survival of the party is for Nawaz Sharif to return to the political landscape of Pakistan. Although he will have to go to jail after coming back, his return will send two important messages. Firstly, unlike Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif believes in the supremacy of law. Secondly, he is not afraid of going to jail and can go to jail even in his brother’s government.
Nawaz Sharif’s return will be a significant political move, and it will show that health is no longer an obstacle for him. If he can travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah and stay there for several days, he should have no difficulty returning to Pakistan and staying there. His return will also put an end to the excuse of illness that his party members had been using to justify his absence from Pakistani politics.
The absence of Nawaz Sharif from the volatile arena of Pakistani politics has caused a severe decline in the popularity of the PML-N. The government’s propaganda capacity and media policy have played a significant role in this decline. Although Maryam Nawaz is a brave and well-spoken politician, she cannot replace the towering personality of Nawaz Sharif.