It has become abundantly clear that the ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) intended to nominate heir apparent of the Sharif family Maryam Nawaz Sharif as a candidate for prime minister in the next general election. However, at the same time, the devil in the details of the ongoing Panama case has come to be the possible last nail in the coffin of the Nawaz Sharif era altogether. With the passage of time, the incriminatory revelations in the JIT report, submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday, appear to increasingly haunt the whole family of the elder Sharif. Here it becomes important to review the prospects of the daughter still as a strong prime ministerial candidate.
In the wake of the damning Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report, that Nawaz Sharif has no moral grounds to continue as a Prime Minister is presumably thought to be a foregone conclusion, hence the speculations about PM Nawaz Sharif’s successor. In this regard, opposition parties, pundits, lawyers and civil society at large have joined the chorus mounting pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign, at least temporarily.
As things stand today, it seems that it is not all that hunky dory for the Sharif family to continue serving the country. Not unchecked anymore. All forces not PML-N have thrown down the gauntlet and ignoring them may amount to Nawaz Sharif’s historic political suicide.
PML-N did voice reservations over the way JIT was composed, partisanship of its members and its overall conduct. The top leadership of the ruling party time and again blamed that Panama Papers investigation is essentially a witch-hunt in which local and foreign actors are simultaneously involved in hatching a “conspiracy” to topple its government. However, arguably the PML-N leaders have miserably failed to cobble together a coherent story in their favour so far. And the lack of their part in the overall narrative continues to cost them dearly. In fact, in view of the noose tightening around the Sharif family and absence of a strong counter-narrative, it is feared that even the PML-N leaders have foreseen that their ship is sinking and fault-lines have started to emerge within the party. Some political leaders from opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have in fact claimed that soon a few PML-N leaders are going to leave their party to join them i.e. jumping the ship that is nose-diving.
In this scenario, for a possible graceful exit of PM Nawaz Sharif or keep fighting on the legal battle in the apex court for that matter, top PML-N huddles have been discussing the limited options left with them. Now is the time for top PML-N leadership to realise that before the party goes to the dogs, PM Nawaz Sharif should step aside and nominate party stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as his successor till the next general election. It may be saving grace for PML-N in many ways.
First, the wedge that PML-N has created with the military establishment has been widening and having Chaudhry Nisar as prime minister may possibly mend ways for the party. It is to be noted that Nisar is considered to be the best pick when it comes to dealing with the khakis. And having them not on your side before the next general election will not bode well for PML-N.
Second, it is rumoured that Nisar leads the biggest and the strongest of the factions within PML-N. It is the opportune time for Nawaz Sharif to realise that before the fault-lines within his party lead to more friction and infighting, he may as well appease the strongest faction in the house and save the party from the destructive in-house power struggle in difficult times.
Third, by nominating Nisar as his successor, Nawaz may be able to show that although the party itself is named after him, there may still be a room for non-Sharif members to lead it from the front, as unlikely as it may be otherwise. It may be a one-off opportunity for Sharifs to shake off the otherwise justified allegation of the family rule that PML-N offers. In addition, Nawaz may be able to gain some of the lost moral ground by his “magnanimity” in stepping aside for the “sake of democracy” and giving others a chance. Then spin doctors and party spokespersons can sell it, stretch it and keep selling it in the future.
But all of the above is meant to secure the political fortunes of PML-N wherein it may be able to nominate Maryam Nawaz Sharif as its candidate for PM in the next general election, right? What if the party fails to secure itself in the ongoing legal battle in the apex court and the whole family of the elder Sharif is dismissed?
That is where the political observers have set their sight on. Coming weeks have a lot in store for us. Fingers are crossed.
If, and only if, Maryam comes out of dire straits alive after the Panama case, she may be able to play all those cards in the next general election: “daughter of the nation” being dragged through the courts, selective accountability of the house of Sharifs and maybe the military establishment not being on the same proverbial page with the political leadership.
But the need of the hour still remains: Nawaz steps aside, put Nisar in his place till the next general election (and defang him and his clout in the process), and then maybe the nation would be able to see Prime Minister, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Maryam Nawaz Sharif.