The more you think, the more you realise that none of the prevalent theories about Nawaz Sharif’s recent statement on Mumbai attacks make sense. You cannot be that irresponsible to shoot yourself in the foot like that especially at a time when the political tide is in your favour this close to the elections. Unless this is exactly what you want. It almost appears that Nawaz Sharif through his statement has purposely set a course for his party to lose the next elections. To explore this theory, let us first rule out all the other theories through a simple process of elimination.
Starting from the obvious one, unless you’re part of the PML-N social media team we can all agree that Nawaz Sharif’s statement was not about strengthening democracy. The simple evidence of that is the fact that for three years while he was in office, there was not a word or concern on the Mumbai trial.
Second, we can also rule out that his statement was meant to target and malign the military. He has already done that. If anything, common sense would suggest that such remarks would bring sympathy to the army and give it fodder to push back Nawaz.
Third, his statement cannot be a deflection from the Panama verdict or a plea to the foreign powers to help him secure a deal. Nawaz and those around him that arranged the interview cannot possibly have imagined that raising the Mumbai issue now is going to help him in the Panama case verdict and no foreign power currently sees him in the position to deliver on their agenda.
That leaves us with our original hypothesis that Nawaz Sharif’s statement is meant to damage his own party, setting it on a course to lose the upcoming elections — and for a very good reason that makes an absolute sense of this entire episode.
If you are Nawaz at this stage, you have essentially two enemies competing over power with you. One is the obvious military-judicial establishment targeting you from the outside. The second one, less talked about is your brother Shehbaz Sharif — a more competent and direct rival to your power within the party. Nawaz’s refusal to make Shehbaz the PM, and then the delay in making him the party leader all suggest the uneasiness of Nawaz to give his brother the leash of the party. The Nawaz-Shehbaz rivalry is well known but the qualm is not just over the relations with the military, but more so over the question of succession.
From the lens of Nawaz, you know you are out for good, you have given the party reluctantly in the hands of your brother, your daughter is not fully ready to be accepted as the leader of the party, and the elections are on the horizon. What would you do? The last thing you would want is to win the elections. Because by winning the elections, you lose the power and future in the party to Shehbaz.
By giving a statement on India — a deal breaker for the voter in north and central Punjab, Nawaz has tried to kill the hopes of Shehbaz becoming PM — a bigger threat to Nawaz at this point. One can tell a lot by Shehbaz’s frustration over the statement.
For both Nawaz and Maryam, the best option right now is for the PML-N to lose the election and sit in the opposition. This would push Shehbaz back to Punjab as CM making Maryam a defacto leader in parliament preparing her for the 2023 elections. Otherwise Maryam has no place or future in the party. In addition, the PML-N in the opposition would also take the heat off Nawaz and Maryam in terms of corruption cases, scandals and media glare. The judiciary and establishment are unlikely to pursue cases with the same fervour with the PML-N out of power.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2018.