Islamabad, July 6: Pakistan is at the crossroads again. The verdict given by an accountability court in the country on Friday, July 6, convicting former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam in connection with a corruption case and sending them to 10 and seven years in prison, respectively, less than three weeks ahead of the country's next national and provincial elections is extremely crucial. But while many are writing off Sharif for ever, could this episode have a reverse impact?
Nawaz Sharif, despite all the charges and conviction against him, has proved himself no less than the Phoenix. He has been derailed time and again in his long political innings by various quarters but he has made a comeback and at 68, he might not yet be written off.
There is no doubt that irrespective of the charges against him, Sharif is the tallest of Pakistan's politicians - a three-time prime minister who has a massive reserve of experience in both politics and administration.
Only Benazir Bhutto could have given the man a close competition in understanding the nuances of Pakistani politics better but since is no more on this planet, there is no easily available opponent who can eclipse Sharif straightaway.
Sharif's PML-N - which ruled Pakistan last - is undoubtedly in a big trouble now. The party, which was doing quite well on the approval chart even a few months ago, saw trouble at once on several fronts after Sharif was disqualified as the PM last year and at the moment, the imprisonment of Sharif will certainly make its life even tougher.
This is not something new in Pakistan
Pakistan's political history has ample examples of such a script unfolding. In the early years after independence, Khawaja Nazimuddin, the second prime minister of (undivided) Pakistan had faced a dismissal. In the later years, prominent prime ministers of the country like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir, too, had similar experiences as the premier. While the senior Bhutto had no opportunity to make a comeback against the Army, Benazir had made a comeback only to get assassinated.
Nawaz himself was also toppled twice in the 1990s but he made a comeback to become the PM again. This time, the circumstances might look too tough for Sharif to return again for a fourth term at the helm, but one never knows the direction in which the political wind in these parts blows.
Sharif's elimination no solution for Pak democracy
Sharif's elimination is no way a solution for Pakistan's democratic politics. The next election on July 25 will be very crucial for a country which needs political stability for an upheaval in important segments like economy, national security and foreign policy. Sharif, despite his shortcomings, has long been seen as a known face of Pakistan - an experienced leader who can accomplish key tasks like improving relations with India.
His elimination now creates a vacuum which no other leader can hope to fulfil anytime soon, including the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.
Khan might be a popular leader and taking full advantage of the fact that he is yet untested and can be the best hope for the country. But delivering on the grounds for a leader who has no experience whatsoever in administration is another ball game. And in case there is a hung parliament after the July 25 election, what's the guarantee that the bickering parties will join hands to give Pakistan its much needed stability? The other big party - Pakistan People's Party of the Bhuttos - is almost irrelevant at the moment.
Nawaz-Maryam could be equated with Zulfiqar-Benazir
On the other hand, if the Sharifs - father and daughter - return to Pakistan to serve the punishment soon, they will be equated with the other brave father-daughter duo in the Bhutto family who had sacrificed their lives for the nation.
Nawaz Sharif made a blunder by remaining away from his country for a long time in the election season, allowing his beleaguered party to drift, but he can make it up by returning to the country as a hero, providing a brave leadership to his party even while going to the jail.
The perception it creates makes enough sense in the politics which is generally in play in the subcontinent: Leaders exist for nations and nations pay them back.
If Pakistan fails to reproduce its excellent feat of 2013, when it saw a smooth transition of power for the first time since independence, this year and witnesses a mess where no party is in position to call the shots, then the invisible forces that have often hijacked the country in the past, will be at play again, in the name of securing its stability. But from the perspective of Pakistan's democracy, it will be a disaster and something its people should avoid at all cost.
In Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif is like what Lalu Prasad is in India
Sharif's advantage lies in the fact that although a lot of quarters are trying to finish off his career, there is very little alternative to his statesmanship that these forces are offering. In India, we have seen how a politician like Lalu Prasad refuses to die down and one of the reason is that his brand of politics has still not been mastered by those who harbour the hope to see him flickering out.
Thus, there are more legal battles against the man to end his political effectiveness but yet he comes back because there is no readily available alternative to him - at least politically. Nationally, too, India saw in Indira Gandhi a similar leader who was difficult to be kept away from the centrestage because there was simply no replacement for her from any party - her own or the opposition.
Pakistani Army is not keen to take up power now
This is also a time when the Pakistani Army is not in favour of taking up the reins of power, at least directly.
For that would only add to its pressure to rule effectively, against a lot of threats that have turned stronger in the recent years - like terrorism, Washington, economic slide, etc. Also, if the army starts ruling Pakistan directly now, there are ample chances of it facing sanctions which will worsen its economic state further.
Pakistan's increasingly aware and assertive middle class also doesn't relish the idea of a military rule today.
Pakistan is thus in need of a stable civilian administration and given the other parties' lack of experience or strength, the PML-N still stands to be the best possible option for the people to choose. And if the party proves to be the winner on July 25 (we never know how elections make or break forces), then Sharif's fortunes could see a new twist.
Even if he lands in jail after returning from London where he has gone to meet his ailing wife Kulsoom, it would work wonders to revive the drooping shoulders of the party workers and supporters.
Sharif has the highest credentials as a democratic leader in Pak
Given Sharif's credentials as a democratic leader (perhaps it is one of the reason why the man is being continuously targeted), it is expected that he will return to the country to show that he still sticks to his anti-establishment stance - something the Bhuttos had done in the past - and not do something like former dictator Pervez Musharraf, who despite his strong talks, did not return to Pakistan to face the law while trying to revive his political fortunes.
Sharif has a humongous opportunity in front of him now to make a temporary loss for a long-term gain by walking into the jail and wait for the right time to strike back. Given Pakistan's wobbly democracy, there is no reason to strike out Sharif's name.
On the contrary, Sharif's supporters might get the opportunity one day to thank the forces that chose a date three weeks prior to the election to nail their leader.