The comeback after the setback: The ‘silent’ return of Maryam Nawaz

Published: December 12, 2018
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Maryam Nawaz Sharif arriving for her appearance before an anti-corruption commission in Islamabad in July. PHOTO: AFP

There is an ongoing debate in certain inner circles regarding the possibility of Maryam Nawaz being ‘re-launched’ into politics sometime soon. Some of these people are of the view that she is currently inactive, which is actually not true – Maryam is still very active in the decision-making of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). However, she has not made any public appearances or used her famous Twitter account as of late. 

The PML-N has planned a convention on December 30th to commemorate the foundation of the All India Muslim League on the same date in 1906. Both Nawaz Sharif and Maryam are expected to attend and return to the limelight, and perhaps make a political comeback as well. Especially Maryam, who has remained completely out of the picture since her release from jail and the passing of her mother, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz.

Her possible return to the public and politics has already disturbed her visible and invisible opponents, and allegations of Maryam paying billion of rupees to Cambridge Analytica to incite the youth against state institutions are once again being brought to the limelight by conspiracy theorists. She has also been accused by some opponents of running the PML-N media cell to malign the state.

For some, Maryam is seen as her father’s partner-in-crime, as she stood by him and defended him against the charges of corruption, even going to jail. For others, including some of PML-N’s own traditional power-hungry politicians, Maryam’s narrative of respecting the vote and her advice for her father to travel from GT Road after his disqualification (which created a rift between PML-N and the powers that be) puts her to blame for the irreparable damage done to the power of the PML-N.

However, for the party leadership and PML-N’s massive urban youth followers, she is the one who can revive the party and force her way into the corridors of power through the sheer popularity and support she enjoys in the Punjab.

You can either like Maryam or dislike her, depending upon your political and ideological affiliations, but it cannot be denied that Maryam has emerged as the most powerful leader in the ranks of the PML-N, after Nawaz. Her aggressive style of politics and her ability to attract the youth towards a party that was not known for having vibrant political workers has completely changed the dynamics of the PML-N. She stood with her father at a time when senior leaders like Chaudhry Nisar distanced themselves, and in the worst of circumstances, she was able to create a narrative that virtually saved the party from vanishing from the political horizon. One can dislike or disagree with her narrative, but the fact remains that the votes received by the PML-N in the last General Elections were for Maryam’s narrative, not for Shehbaz Sharif’s performance narrative.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar has ordered the accountability court to wind up all hearings and conclude pending cases against Nawaz. After this development, Nawaz broke his silence and hinted that PML-N is ready to fight the early elections mentioned by the premier at any given time. He has also started criticising the weak performance of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.

However, everything is not fine in the ranks of the PML-N, as most of its stalwarts are concerned that the CJP’s recent order to conclude these cases by the 24th of this month will once again land Nawaz in jail, and there is a growing anxiety over who will lead the party if this happens. With Shehbaz already in Kot Lakhpat, the resultant vacuum will be large, and it will be impossible for an unimpressive and traditional politician like Hamza Shahbaz to fill it. So the PML-N is left with no choice but to once again bring Maryam to the helm of its affairs, but are Nawaz and his party ready to take this gamble?

With Maryam leading charge, it is evident that the efforts to mend fences with the powers that be shall be in vain. Her refusal to take dictation from anyone and her aggressive stance has led to her ability to pull large crowds, creating havoc for the weak and unimpressive PTI government. But at the same time, this will demand more sacrifices from the PML-N, particularly from the Sharif family. Maryam is not acceptable to the concerned quarters and this message has been clearly given to the Sharifs multiple times; however, in spite of the opposition within party ranks, Nawaz has backed his daughter as she backs him, and has groomed her to become a political leader with a never-say-die attitude.

It is possible Maryam is currently avoiding public appearances because the PML-N’s current political positioning is to somehow survive the onslaught and keep the party intact during these hard times. If Maryam does return to public appearances and starts actively appearing in the media more often, the entire political scenario can change quickly. After all, her fierce statements and befitting responses to the allegations against her father and party not only motivate the PML-N support base but also create panic among the ranks of the PTI.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while criticising Nawaz, never forgets to mention Maryam’s name, making it evident he is aware that the only true political threat he faces is from Maryam’s resurgence. No one knows this better than Nawaz, who has spent almost four decades in Pakistan’s political setup, and it seems he is just waiting for the right time for Maryam to break her silence.

Some PML-N stalwarts, who preferred to not be named while talking to The Express Tribune, revealed that only Nawaz knows when Maryam will appear in front of the media and the public once again, and this will depend on the outcome of the cases against him. Meanwhile, Senator Mushahidullah Khan maintains that Maryam will be re-entering the public sphere very soon. As far as the cases are concerned, Maryam was only named in the case on the Mayfair Apartments, and with the Islamabad High Court having suspended the sentence against her, there are now no legal challenges in her way.

Currently, all factors indicate that we can soon expect Maryam to return in order to control the damage done to the PML-N and to push the PTI-led government on the back foot. Thus, the question to ask is not whether Maryam is politically active or not – she is ­­– but of when we will get to see her be politically active in public. Our best bet can be the December 30th convention, which would be an apt occasion for a new leader to emerge and try to protect democracy while commemorating the party that led to the country in the first place.

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

The writer is a columnist and writes for various English and Urdu publications. He tweets at @rjimad (twitter.com/rjimad)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.