After months of staying quiet, it appears that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is unwilling to let the status quo stand and will do all in his power to alter it. This appears apparent both rom his speech before the All Parties Conference to his daughter, and political heir, Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s statement, following the news of the Gilgit-Baltistan briefing, for key opposition leaders at the ISI Mess, Islamabad.
According to veteran columnist and former Editor of Dawn, Abbas Nasir, “After learning of the meeting, she lashed out at politicians meeting military leaders clandestinely and said if there were issues of national security, parliament was the right forum for a briefing rather than the mess of a security agency. She also said her party was banning such contacts as per the PML-N constitution. Therefore, when the leak came in the shape of a TV interview by the military spokesman, a number of analysts termed it a serious setback to the PML-N, with some of them saying it marked the collapse of the party’s narrative.”
According to Nasir, “What appears clear, however, is that Nawaz Sharif’s address and his daughter’s public statements marked the end of the PML-N’s appeasement policy. The ‘dealophiles’ had been given months and months to deliver some space to the party to operate in but failed. A handful of hawks around the father and daughter have convinced them that defiance is what the rank and file in Punjab want, as was evident in the reaction on the ground to Nawaz Sharif’s MPC address, and that any other option will risk losing support. A source close to the PML-N duo insists that they have decided whatever the consequences they will follow the new strategy: “They are determined that the authorities can tear up and burn Maryam’s passport and jail her, they won’t be allowed to use that as leverage with the father.” Brave words.”
However, as Nasir notes questions remain. “The foremost, of course, is whether the PML-N has sufficiently motivated cadres to transform its formidable electoral support into street power? Or will any planned protests, marches and rallies solely have to rely on Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F? And if that is indeed the case, will the cleric and his committed followers pack enough punch on their own to pressurise the government backers to rethink their support to the incumbents? The state of the economy is a major factor. If the opposition’s planned protests gain momentum, there will inevitably be concerns regarding the impact of a long-drawn-out tussle around the country on economic growth that has already been hit by the pandemic. Can this force a change in thinking?”