A tangible shift in PML-N politics  | By Naveed Aman Khan


A tangible shift in PML-N politics 

THE change in the PML-N’s strategy looks inevitable after the eventual collapse of the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) and its failure to bring down the Imran Khan government through an organized well prepared political movement.

A major reason for the fragmentation of the PDM was the hard-line position taken by Maryam Nawaz who has become the main face of the party in the absence of Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz.

The roar of PML-N has not gone yet with the change in the narrative. The direction of criticism is diverted from the establishment to Imran Khan. The military leadership is no longer the main scourge of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. There’s no more talk of storming the citadel.

It’s back to normal politics with an eye on the next elections. With the return of the uncle, the niece has taken a back seat.

Widely perceived as the heiress of the towering political dynasty of Sharif family, Maryam Nawaz revitalised the party but her politics lacked practical political experience and maturity.

It was a miscalculation on the part of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz that their strong anti-establishment narrative would lead to a massive reaction against hybrid rule.

Narrative of Nawaz Sharif was very effectively executed by Maryam Nawaz and followed by PML-N heavy weights Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ehsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif and Pervaiz Rashid.

Because of PPP’s stabbing the strategy of PDM failed to kick out the PTI-led government. It rather got divided. Shehbaz Sharif’s release on bail gave impetus to the change of direction.

After the hawkish outburst of the PML-N supremo now the party leadership is opting the politics of reconciliation.

During the PDM Movement, Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz relentlessly lashed out at the military establishment and demanded wrapping up of the entire system.

While attacks on the PTI government continue, there is no more talk of destroying the edifice.  Visible change in the approach of Shehbaz Sharif is seen.

The PML-N’s push for resignation from the national and provincial assemblies led to the break-up of the PDM.

It also widened the divide within its own close quarters. The Senate elections and the by-elections proved Nawaz Sharif’s popularity in Punjab. The PTI is clearly seen in a greater political divide.

The recent by-elections dominant sweep in Punjab by PML-N is a great blow to the PTI. Undoubtedly, the results of the by—elections strengthened the approach in the PML-N to focus on electoral politics rather than shattering the system down.

The sweeping electoral victory of PML-N in Punjab would not have been possible without the massive mobilisation of masses. Once again the widened cleavage between the PML-N and the PPP is evident. Both the parties think that this difference is their political life.

Mature PML-N and PPP leadership could have dealt with the differences more prudently and saved the PDM from falling apart. The PML-N’s change of track has become imperative after the party.

The strong show of strength by PML-N in Punjab has neutralised the security establishment to a great extent. The deadline of Dec 31 for the PTI government to step down proved to be a major tactical mistake of PML-N. It raised questions about the party’s strategy.

One after the other debacle in by- elections has exposed the differences within the PTI ranks and widened its fault lines. Shehbaz Sharif’s release on bail gave further impetus to the change of direction.

Although the overall leadership of the party still lies with Nawaz Sharif. But because of Nawaz Sharif Maryam Nawaz is commanding the party on ground. The tone of Maryam is markedly different. Shehbaz Sharif has also moved to reunite the PDM by reaching out to the PPP and ANP. But it didn’t work.

The PPP and ANP were forced out from the PDM alliance over their differences dominantly with the PML-N and JUI-F.

It is not easy for PPP and ANP to return to the fold after the acrimonious parting of ways but they can cooperate on issues in parliament. Another jigsaw.

The rhetoric is already down and some of the PML-N leaders have openly been advocating for mending fences with the military establishment in order to fully focus on the struggle against the PTI government.

There has been a growing sense of confidence within PML-N ranks that they could easily sweep the 2023 elections in Punjab and return to power without disrupting the system. Amongst the PML-N it is imperative to review the anti-establishment policy.

Some politicians close to the narrative of Shehbaz Sharif believe in a reconciliation policy. The new tone with the return of Shehbaz Sharif does not mean a split in the party at all. No “Sheen” out of “Noon” will appear as a separate entity. Shehbaz Sharif knows the consequences of any attempt of his separate domain.

Despite the inner party struggle, there is no possibility of fragmentation at all. Strangely, both the narratives work well with the party members when they prepare to go for elections.

Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz could only get party members including Shehbaz Sharif the votes but this time the Supremo would like Shehbaz Sharif’s non-confrontationist approach to get back in power.

This tactical move will work. The developing fissures and appearing cleavage within the ranks of the PTI seem to have further moved the party’s morale downwards.

The lowering of anti-establishment rhetoric is certainly a part of the PML-N’s election strategy that could allow it to return to power.

But there is still a long way to go before the next polls and there are political uncertainties along the way.

After the split of PDM it is apparent that all the political parties are already in an election frame of mind.

With the pathetic performance of the PTI-led government in Punjab and at the Centre in particular, the PML-N appears much more confident about its success.

—The writer, based in Islamabad, is book ambassador, columnist and author of several books.