In his political life, Nawaz Sharif attempted to throw gauntlet three time. Each time he grossly miscalculated wherein, he could easily be seen a man galloping ahead of resources. In 2007, he returned to Islamabad while disregarding curbs placed on him by an internationally brokered deal of self-exile. He started his journey in media spotlight from London in fond hope of a rousing welcome or an earth shaking public outrage to deliver him of his ordeal. Nothing happened at Islamabad or across the country. He was taken back ignominiously by his antagonised Saudi host in self-exile. Following his disqualification, he blissfully chose to demonstrate his political muscle on GT road under arrangements of his own governments to undo alleged wrong perpetrated upon him. Much to his chagrin, he could only see his few thousand supporters along the route. It only added to his agony albeit quite successfully, his media people controlled damage thus, caused.
Undeterred by fragility of his cause, he continued confrontational politics to some effect, mainly by virtue of own governments nevertheless, not good enough to influence the events in the country. On July 06 2018, when he and his daughter were convicted for 11 and 8 years imprisonment respectively in Avenfield case, ostensibly both were in England in connection to health of Kulsom Nawaz. Given political environments in run up to elections 2018, probably verdict was most calamitous development to their dwindling electoral fortunes. Perhaps finding it too hot, Nawaz Sharif decided to take the plunge and return to Pakistan in a desperate bid to reprieve electoral chances of his party while confounding many expectations to the contrary ranging from his personal considerations to mathematical certainty of its failure which exactly happened. Nawaz Sharif along with his daughter reached Adiala Jail with no sign of an upheaval brewing anywhere to salvage their plight.
If past is any guide, it is hard to believe that Nawaz Sharif is a man who could follow legal injunctions willingly. In his fantasy, he must have thought of a massive agitating crowd outside Lahore Airport to break his self construed shackles, built around him by unholy alliance of usurps of will of people. Shabazz Sharif who vowed to lead massive rally, lost the way on fateful day until to appear at Dahram Pura, far away from the airport and equally far past the time when Nawaz Sharif was fully lodged in Adiala Jail with almost clockwork precision. More painful part was his timidly brief address before calling off disoriented rally comprising of few thousand people only with no future plan to confront woes of Nawaz Sharif except to vote for PML (N) on Election Day.
Pathetic show of strength certainly dashed largely stir, life and energy injected in supporters of PML (N) by uncharacteristic decision of Nawaz Sharif to come back. Shabaz Sharif stood exposed and he has to lead PML (N) electorally thus becoming even more cumbersome in an elections which would test PML (N) to its last reservoir of strength. On top of this, it is being said by detractors of Sharif brothers that younger Sharif has hatched conspiracy by calling elder Sharif for falling prey to long imprisonment to pave way for himself. Besides, both Sharif are also apparently at tangent to each other if not factually but at least apparently. Elder portrays himself a man of confrontation and inflexibility. Younger one advances his image of reconciliation and appeasement. All these make lethal combination for internal unity, cohesion and drive in PML (N). It has already imploded from within and catch more fillip if situation is not ameliorated immediately.
Though situation for PML (N) is increasingly becoming forbidding yet it holds certain positives to lessen its difficulties to some extent. Some part of media or its genuinely supportive media strives hard to keep PML (N) almost at par with its main rival PTI which is otherwise going high guns because of variety of reasons notably, unassailable credibility of Imran Khan and his energy/capacity to pull crowds even in blistering heat, preponderance of electable and fast emerging perception of courting alleged support of powerful quarters courtesy largely PML (N) itself which otherwise used to be its main plank of perception management. Electoral surveys which still keep PML (N) at higher pedestal electorally. Largely veracity of these is suspect but definitely count in close endgame. Institutional leniency not to disallow various prohibited activities which largely benefits PML (N), notably display of convicts in ads, posters and public gatherings etc. Theme of development under Nawaz Sharif which is essentially hallow if attacked in depth but luckily to them, Imran Khan spares it in exuberance of his lifelong crusade against corruption. The corruption is an issue in theory only but not in practice for those segments of society (rural/semi urban) where support of PML (N) has still not been eroded greatly. Notwithstanding this, they tend to support that party which is winning because they live close to ground realities. To survive, they have to rely upon elected people who are in government because of their sway. It is a fatal dimension and perception in favor of PTI. It may accelerate particularly, with Nawaz Sharif in jail with no prospect of relief. To cap it all, PML (N) is in catch 22 situation.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.