Nawaz’s power show


Former PM Nawaz Sharif continues to mobilise public support for his cause — a narrative of being treated unfairly by the powers-that-be. Yesterday’s rally in Peshawar was significant for a number of reasons. First, the rally was well-attended and indicated that PMLN had some support outside the Punjab province. Secondly, it was held in the heart of the province ruled by Sharif’s arch-foe Imran Khan’s party. Finally, the charged crowd and the defection of an MPA hinted that Nawaz and his daughter are going to give a tough time to Imran Khan in the forthcoming elections. While much of rhetoric aimed at Khan and PTI was pure political point scoring, the fact that Nawaz attracted a sizeable crowd should worry the PTI.
In all fairness, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa led by a PTI chief minister have undertaken a number of reforms in key areas such as police, land records and public service delivery. The results may not be as spectacular as the media campaigns suggest but there has been improvement in many areas. But the PTI government in KP has embarked on a rightist agenda by aligning itself with Jamat-e-Islami and now Samiul Haq also known as the father of Taliban. A province that has been hit hard by terrorism needs to address the sources of extremism instead of pandering to the religious right and the pro-militant political forces. This is a grave mistake that PTI is not willing to acknowledge. PMLN is popular in the Hazara belt and it is likely to do well in those areas. PMLN’s chances of making inroads into Pakhtun areas are limited given the ethnic divides that informs politics in the province.
Having said that PMLN will be a force to reckon with in the next election. The large crowds in Sharif’s rallies are also intriguing given the relentless campaigns that have dubbed him and his daughter as ‘corrupt’ and unfit for politics. It seems that the constituents and voters are not too swayed by propaganda. If that were the case, Sharif should not have attracted so many people at his rallies. In fact, the younger participants in these rallies also belie the common perception that PTI solely represents the interests of the youth. Both PPP and PMLN have younger leaders like Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif who despite their dynastic credentials have the potential to influence the new voters.
Nawaz Sharif’s political future is uncertain given the cases he faces in accountability courts and the apparent resolve of the establishment to keep him out of the political arena. Yet he is not ready to take an exit route and his rhetoric against the judiciary and innuendos about the military are growing stronger. We hope that both parties — the establishment and Nawaz Sharif — realise that this conflict is not in the national interest and some accommodation must be reached to avoid another showdown.