There is no disputing the fact that former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam have shown great courage in landing in Lahore even though they were certain of being jailed. That they were arrested when they landed in Dubai en route to Lahore and were whisked away to jail in a chartered plane from Lahore airport shows the resolve of the Pakistan authorities not to let Nawaz mingle with his well-wishers.
Having been convicted by the National Accountability Bureau for corrupt practices apparently at the behest or connivance of the Pakistan Army, Nawaz, who was in London attending to his cancer-ridden wife had to take a call---to continue there or to return to hand himself and his daughter over to jail authorities while fighting his legal battles.
Nawaz chose the latter in the fervent hope that this would endear him to the voters in the impending elections in Pakistan on July 25 by generating a wave of sympathy. Although he and Maryam stand barred from contesting elections, their party---Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) --- is a powerful force in the polls, though it stands demoralised by his conviction.
With Nawaz sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and Maryam to seven years, with a year added to both on other charges, the seemingly motivated judgment sought to finish their political careers. But Nawaz has been down and out twice before and has had a resurrection and he is hoping he would be catapulted to power again by his supporters.
It truly is a huge gamble but he has taken it upon himself to play it. He apparently reckons that the fact that his wife Kulsoom is seriously ill would bring him a great deal of sympathy.
Nawaz surmises that given his popularity, the Army may well not rub him so hard as to incur the wrath of the people from whom it has got consistent respect and support in the past. But the fact is that Nawaz has done nothing to wipe off the stigma of having salted away huge amount of money to London to buy mansions there at the expense of the tax-paying Pakistan public.
Another election plank of Nawaz has been that he is being hounded because he wants peace and friendship with India which is anathema to the Army.
Significantly, for the first time in recent years, shrill anti-India propaganda has been largely absent in the electoral campaign of parties. Apparently, deep within, many Pakistanis want durable peace with India.
Nawaz took on the Pakistan Army establishment nice and proper when he said in London that he is being sent to jail because he tried to free the people of Pakistan from the slavery imposed on them by some generals and judges. In the same vein he vowed to continue his political struggle from behind the bars.
Another interesting aspect is that most Pakistani media groups remain critical over the conviction of Sharif and Maryam, saying the extremist and sectarian religious parties that are rapidly mainstreaming with official encouragement may benefit from this judgment. That line of argument is finding favour with progressive minds in the country.
It remains to be seen how the Army and the police would deal with pro-Nawaz demonstrators on Pakistan’s streets. If repression becomes the order of the day, support for Nawaz could well grow.
The army has of late been saying that it is neutral in the elections, though there is no doubt that it wants former ace cricketer Imran Khan in the prime ministerial ‘gaddi’. Imran is a loudmouth whom Pakistan has rejected in earlier elections. He shocked people when he declared on the eve of Nawaz-Maryam’s arrival in Lahore that anyone who comes to support them at the airport would be a donkey.
Yet, there is no denying that the odds are stacked against Nawaz and only extraordinary luck can resurrect him. The battle lines are indeed drawn.