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Settling between the two narratives: From ‘adventurous’ Maryam to Shahbaz’s politics of ‘restraint’

ISLAMABAD: Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz may be the crowd-pullers in the PMLN but their policy of confrontation with the establishment will not allow them to reach the corridors of power no matter how popular they may be.

Maryam is inexperienced and can thus afford political adventures. Nawaz, on the other hand, has a long history of dealing with this harsh reality of Pakistani politics. Yet if he thinks he can change the course of history, he could give it a try but embarking on this difficult path will be treacherous indeed.

With the next general elections only two years away, the PMLN needs to make the necessary adjustments to be acceptable to the powers that be, otherwise it may see a repeat of 2018. The ruling PTI has not performed well and has fared poorly particular in Punjab –the main political battlefield for those who want to rule the country. Yet it continues to benefit the most because of the estranged relations between the PMLN and the establishment.

The confusion caused by the two very different narratives within the PMLN –one championed by Nawaz and Maryam and the other by Shehbaz Sharif –must be settled sooner rather than later if Nawaz really wants to get his party into the 2023 polls as a serious contender for power. He must soon choose between the ‘adventures’ of his daughter, which many even in the PMLN believe have influenced Nawaz and led him to confront the establishment like never before, and the ‘restraining’ role of his younger brother.

Maryam appears to be enjoying the perception of being ‘anti-establishment. At times, she sounds furious and aggressive. Nawaz too has voiced his anger for the wrongs meted out to him. Many believe that both Nawaz and Maryam were persecuted. And so was Shehbaz Sharif. But being a politician of a major political party, confronting the establishment in public is bound to have a cost attached to it.

When criticism of the confrontation with figures in the establishment is translated into a confrontation with the ‘institution’, it becomes dangerous. For that reason, Nawaz and Maryam today are simply unacceptable not only to a few members of the establishment but perhaps to every second member of the institution. In such a situation, the challenge for politicians remains how to neutralise the perception of their being anti-institution.

Shehbaz Sharif has always preferred to play it safe. Despite having been thrown behind bars by NAB in recent years, he has not spoken a word against the powers that be. Instead, he still believes in the politics of reconciliation and non-confrontation. For the same reason, he is not unacceptable unlike his elder brother and niece.

Whether rightly or wrongly, Nawaz and Maryam are convicts as per the law of the land. Nawaz has even been disqualified for life from becoming a member of parliament or holding office. Maryam’s conviction is also a hurdle for her to get to any public office, at least for now. Shehbaz is a member of parliament and the Leader of the Opposition. He is also acceptable to those who matter despite his refusal to carve out an S-League from the N.

Nawaz must be grooming Maryam as the future of the N-League but her being unacceptable to the establishment is something that Nawaz is required to address to clear her way for a future in power politics. No matter what narrative the PMLN finally adopts, the party leadership needs to understand that they could correct the wrongs of Pakistani politics and the establishment’s interference only by performing well when in power. Perform, perform and perform –there is no shortcut and there is no other solution.

 

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