Lunch After Iftar: What Are Bilawal And Maryam Up To?

Lunch After Iftar: What Are Bilawal And Maryam Up To?
Murtaza Solangi analyses the political situation in the country in light of the meeting between Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari today. At the end of the luncheon meeting, a part of the meeting did include a one-on-one meeting, he reveals.

Barely a month after they met for Iftar dinner in Islamabad, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz Sharif, met again for a luncheon, this time hosted by Maryam Nawaz.

Flanked by the senior leaders from their parties, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif met at the Raiwand residence of the Sharifs.

What is the importance of this meeting?

The fact that the young Bilawal and Maryam, leaders of the two main opposition parties, continue to engage each other on a regular basis is an important aspect of this meeting. The interactions between the two continue amid continued arrests, intimidation and the prosecution of the opposition leaders by the PTI government and NAB, the controversial accountability outfit. These meetings are taking place at a time when both Maryam and Bilawal continue hitting defiant notes in their public speeches and media interactions.

The stocks of both young leaders are rising in their parties as they are tightening their grip on their respective organisations. While Bilawal has already taken control of his party, enjoys a formal position of the party Chairman and has made it to the parliament and even heads a parliamentary committee, Maryam still has a long way to go as she only has been given the junior position of a party Vice President very recently.

While Bilawal only has to worry about his ailing and in custody father Asif Zardari in terms of power competition and fears no challenge from any group within the party, Maryam still has a contest since her uncle, Shehbaz, the formal and ceremonial president of the party, cousin Hamza and many senior leaders of the party are in her way to accession and ascendency pursuits. That is why she is treading cautiously.

To convey the message that Maryam is leading the delegation, the overpowering figures like Shehbaz Sharif were missing from the PML-N side. Even former PM and the Senior Vice President Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khawaja Asif, the parliamentary leader of the party in the national assembly, were not part of the PML-N delegation. All this was done as directed by the party supremo Nawaz Sharif who is guiding and supervising the transition from his prison cell in Kot Lakhpat jail.

Looking at the delegation of the PML-N, one can easily conclude that Pervaiz Rasheed, Ayaz Sadiq, Rana Sanaullah, Muhammad Zubair and Marriyum Aurangzeb are all Nawaz Sharif loyalists who would not try to undermine Maryam Nawaz who is slowly but surely taking control of the party.

Given the background that both Maryam and Bilawal have seen what has happened to their parents at the hands of the powerful Miltablishment and continues to happen, they have the firsthand experience of the role played by the powerful forces of the country. It is this background that is shaping the worldview and persona of both the leaders.

Unlike their parents who have a history of bitter rivalry and who’ve hurt each other in the 90s, Maryam and Bilawal are starting in a much congenial environment with no past baggage of bitterness as they go forward.

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Despite their handicaps, hiccups and teething problems, the fact remains that both Maryam and Bilawal carry more charisma and personal following than any leader in their parties, with the exception of Nawaz Sharif who remains imprisoned. Combined with the organisational prowess of their parties, they do have enough mobilising power, if and when they choose to come out and address any public event.

At the end of the luncheon meeting, a part of the meeting did include a one-on-one meeting, a joint declaration was issued pledging to resist the PTI government’s efforts to roll back the budget and rallying different sections of the society.

The meeting today was a precursor to the All Parties Conference soon to be announced by Moulana Fazl ur-Rehman of the JUI-F. Bilawal announced his public campaign starting June 21 from Nawab Shah, coinciding with the birth anniversary of his mother Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

Do we expect the budget to be rejected by the National Assembly? The answer is a clear NO as the PTI still carries the capacity to carry its coalition partners including BNP-Mengal and the MQM. The government strategy so far seems to be to deprive the opposition from a substantial discussion on the budget in the assembly. The ruckus created by the treasury benches during the last session on Friday testifies to that.

We expect slow rising of the temperature all the way to the fall this year before any mass agitation could start, unless any spontaneous mass outburst erupts in the country as the direct result of the budget and the deteriorating economic conditions.

The most important symbolism of today’s meeting is that the journey of the PML-N and the PPP under Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has actually begun as they transform their parties in their own images.
Executive Editor

Murtaza Solangi is one of Pakistan's top journalists, and former Director General of Radio Pakistan.