Steering the political Titanic

  • Mansoor Ali Khan
  • Aug 28, 2023

As the shadow of another election season looms in Pakistan, the atmosphere is rife with anticipation, uncertainty, and a palpable tension. At the heart of the storm stands the party that just left the corridors of power – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – a party that is grappling with a unique, perhaps existential, challenge.

The party, under its once-determined leader Nawaz Sharif, now finds itself at a crossroads. Being a party that had previously come into power three times and sent packing unceremoniously each time without losing its charm in the largest federating unit of Punjab, their recent 16-month tenure was not received favourably almost anywhere. Inflation skyrocketed, public discontentment became the order of the day, and the party’s political capital eroded faster than many could have predicted.

Amidst this internal storm, Nawaz Sharif has remained a silent enigma, choosing to keep his cards close to his chest

With elections right around the corner, the party is in dire need of its revered leader to return from the self-imposed exile in London and infuse a fresh lease of life into its ranks. But herein lies the dilemma: when should this anticipated homecoming occur?

With the younger brother and party leadership in London, insiders say debates are rife and disagreements are evident. One school of thought, perhaps more idealistic, asserts that Sharif should make a grand return and willingly face the law. This faction believes that such a move, drenched in political martyrdom, could be a game-changer. They envision a scenario where the masses rally behind Sharif, perceiving him as a hero willing to face his adversaries for the sake of his country.

However, there’s another, more calculative faction within the party that points to the incumbent Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, arguing that as long as he holds the reins, Sharif won’t get a fair chance at a trial. Their strategy? Wait it out. Wait until Justice Bandial retires and is succeeded by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, whom they believe might offer a more ‘unbiased’ hearing.

Kakar also grapples with a dilemma of his own – ambiguous messaging

Interestingly, amidst this internal storm, Nawaz Sharif has remained a silent enigma, choosing to keep his cards close to his chest till a measly announcement that wasn’t much trumpeted, of his return by mid-October.

Parallelly, the political landscape is faced with another jack-in-the-box. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, once lauded as the modern face of Pakistani politics under the leadership of cricketer-turned-politician chairman, finds itself on shaky ground. The man who promised “Naya Pakistan” is incarcerated and barred from contesting. The party itself seems to be crumbling under its weight; key figures are defecting, while others face legal repercussions or are in hiding. The aftermath of the May 9 incident further paints a grim picture, with thousands of PTI supporters apprehended.

Amidst this political chaos, the onus of stabilizing the ship falls on interim Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar and his team with a task list that seems overwhelmingly hefty. Apart from Marching the nation towards what one hopes would be free and transparent elections, Kakar also grapples with a dilemma of his own – ambiguous messaging and initiatives that strikes at the heart of what an interim government is mandated to do.

To add another layer of uncertainty, there’s a growing chorus in the media, hinting at a potential shift in the election timeline after the election commission bluntly announcing that polls are impossible to conduct within their constitutional timeframe after the CCI endorsed the new census data. Comments from politicians like Raja Riaz, who were privy to the happenings during the last leg of the government hint at surety for elections by mid-February by the “elders”, suggest there’s more than meets the eye. Afterall, KP’s governor Ghulam Ali said something similar when asked about provincial polls after the assemblies were dissolved.

To say that Pakistan’s democratic fabric is being tested would be an understatement. The country stands at a pivotal juncture. The road to the elections is winding, uncertain, and fraught with potential pitfalls. Add to that the budding protests against spikes in electricity prices, and we might just be witnessing the tip of an iceberg that can drown a titanic. One only hopes, everyone knows that.

Politics Pakistan

Mansoor Ali Khan

The author is a senior journalist and hosts a talk show on HUM News. He posts on X as @_Mansoor_Ali.

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