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Panama time for Nawaz and family

Published : Mar 14, 2017, 1:37 am IST
Updated : Mar 14, 2017, 6:44 am IST

Nawaz may have had his reasons and may even have been right.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (Photo: AFP)
 Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (Photo: AFP)

Karachi: The rumour mill is in overdrive, everyone’s got a theory or two, folk are on the verge of eruption and conniptions. It’s circus time again. Panama is in the air. So let’s jump on the bandwagon and try and figure out where this car crash is headed. The smart money is on Nawaz surviving, but the family getting smacked around for its financial misdeeds/habits. The iffy money is on Maryam getting ensnared and knocked out of electoral contention for 2018. The silly money is on Nawaz being ousted, temporarily or permanently, and a shattered N-League either hanging on till 2018 or being led to electoral slaughter immediately. But what after? And what has Panama done already? Let’s start with familia Sharif. They’ve tried to hush it up and bury it with public silliness and faux-affection, but there’s real tension. May be even an imminent civil war. It’s a classic problem. There can only be one king and the other is sick of being a prince. By 2013, the brother in Punjab had already tired of being No 2. Punjab is vast, but Punjab is also boring. At the Centre, you get to play with the big boys. Fix electricity, tour the world, be the centre of attention.

But No: 2 was rebuffed by No: 1 and you can bet it has lingered. Nawaz may have had his reasons and may even have been right. The uber-administrator Shahbaz isn’t a vote-getter and hasn’t had the impulsive beaten out of him like Nawaz has. Plus, if you vacate Punjab, it sets off a headache-inducing succession scramble. See who all hedged their bets in 2013, opting for both a Punjab seat and Parliament. But that’s old news. The repudiation in 2013 set up a different game: the eventual switch to the next generation. And it’s here where familia Sharif has botched it, so far. The ambition of Maryam has disrupted what should have been a relatively smooth transition after the other side of the family had championed Hamza as the heir apparent. Hamza has yet to impress, but he has quietly accumulated experience managing the party in Punjab. All fun and games, really, and about par for the course for the average power family. Until the Panama stuff appeared out of nowhere. You don’t have to be a Sharif to see that one side of the family really screwed up. Greed and incompetence are a toxic combination. For a year now, the Sharif name and three generations of family have been dragged through the mud. There were no geniuses in the second generation and the third has produced what appear to be extravagant, incompetent clowns. A dire court verdict could bring the Sharif family war out into the open. It would also come at a particularly awkward moment.

Obsessed as the N-League is with Imran and the PTI, the party is clearly seeing something on the ground. Never a party of shrinking violets to begin with, the edge to the N-League’s politics of late suggests something else is going on. Zoom in to Punjab. There is only one path to power: a sweep of Punjab. Slip up by even 10 or 15 per cent in Punjab and there’s no obvious way to make up the difference in the other provinces. The margin between outright victory and a coalition government in the next Parliament is so thin that, effectively, the N-League has to approach the election like it’s the PTI. Wrap the electoral problem around the Sharif family drama and we may have delicious days ahead. These should be good days for the PML(N) in Punjab. The PPP has imploded and the PTI seems desultory and riven by factionalism. The N-League should be in a position to select whoever it wants for whichever seat it wants and possibly the runner-up and third place chap, too. But the always-present, ever-tricky question for N-Leaguers — align yourself with Nawaz or Shahbaz? There being no middle ground for most — is getting more complicated than ever. And into that already most delicate of political calculations, add the Panama confusion: what if the court issues a dire verdict? Behind every circus here, there’s usually a bunch of hard-edged choices to be made. Win or lose in court, the Sharifs and the N-League are primed for an almighty fight outside.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: nawaz sharif, panama