Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, rumored last week to have decided to buck the Pakistan Army and not return from what everyone thought was exile in London, has decided to show up at the National Accountability Court (NAB) on Nov. 3. Exile would have delegitimized any order prevailing in Pakistan and catapulted his eponymous Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party into terminal decline. His decision to return has also strengthened the view that the PMLN will “adjust” to circumstances created “on ground” in Pakistan and suffer a change of its top leadership. Has the thrice-deposed prime minister decided to “let go” and see his party survive while he remains in the shadows as a legally challengeable leader?
Some kind of “big decision” was in the offing as Sharif went from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he could have met the ruling family. Strikingly, the current prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, took time off for a “private visit” to London and met him together with Punjab chief minister and party-leadership hopeful Shahbaz Sharif, and foreign minister Khwaja Asif. The outcome of this meeting was the decision that Nawaz would spurn exile and face the music at the NAB court in Islamabad. Will Shahbaz get to be the leader of the party by getting him to step down and thereafter replacing P.M. Abbasi as prime minister too? Not before someone from behind the scenes gets at least two cases of murder and corruption against him squashed. Will this happen and who will get it done?
Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has let on a little, telling the International Business Conference and Exhibition (IBCE-2017) in Lahore on Saturday that a “troika comprising failed politicians, retired generals, and TV talk show hosts” was out to discredit his party. He claimed, without naming names, that the Army was set to get rid of the PMLN through such illegal devices as the “government of technocrats” not even mentioned in the Constitution. Judging from the opinion expressed by the “retired generals” appearing on TV, the PMLN, like the PPP, has to go because it defies the military worldview according to which Pakistan has to refrain from normalizing relations with India, take on the United States, and “mainstream” the proxy warriors once used in India and Afghanistan but now terrorizing Pakistan.