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Bilawal Met Nawaz Sharif In Jail. But That Doesn’t Mean A Partnership Is In Works

Former premier Nawaz is in prison. The Panama Leaks case has been tumultuous for him ever since it surfaced in April 2016. Currently, Nawaz is in jail on the Accountability Court verdict in Hill Metal Establishment case. Nawaz has been one of the most discussed political cases in the country for the last few months but during the recent Pakistan-India scuffle, the subject went into the background.

Now it is back on the centre stage again following a meeting between Bilawal Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhpat Jail. For years, PPP leadership remained extremely critical of Nawaz.

It’s understandable because back in 2015 when Nawaz allowed the establishment to hound PPP and MQM leading to multiple cases being filed against the leadership of the two parties. Dr Asim and other bigwigs associated with former President Asif Ali Zardari were in a tight spot.

Several years into those cases, not only do they remain unresolved, no evidence in the cases has been produced either. Therefore, Asif Zardari was extremely angry with PML-N leadership.

The rift between the two parties was crystal clear when Asif Zardari along with Imran Khan played a dirty role in ousting PML-N’s provincial government in Balochistan to keep the then ruling party from getting a majority in the Senate.

Apparently, PPP was given assurances of a few extra seats from Punjab and Balochistan in return of the ‘service’. As the elections ensued, despite assurances from powerful quarters, that PPP got nothing except for the Sindh government. But even that wasn’t enough.

PPP repeatedly ditched the opposition parties after the election, including the elections of Speaker, Deputy Speaker, PM, Punjab CM and President. Considering the razor thin majority the PTI government has in Punjab and centre, the joint opposition could’ve given it some extremely tough time in these elections, had PPP not played ball.

Actually, cases against Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur were being vigilantly pursued by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) at the time and he didn’t have an option but to let Imran Khan get elected. PPP eventually became the biggest beneficiary of this divide and rule game played by the powers that be. The joint opposition is the need of the time.

But the situation isn’t that simple for PPP. If it clearly gravitates towards PML-N, the sword of fake bank accounts case may very well fall, and Zardari, along with Faryal Talpur, will be imprisoned. Essentially, Bilawal is also accused in the JIT report which can mar his reputation too. PPP’s response, therefore, is confusing.

The other angle of looking at the situation is that Asif Zardari will not be arrested before the military court extension isn’t ensured. Ostensibly, PPP will use the extension of military courts as a bargaining tool. That’s why Bilawal met Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhpat Jail. Asif Zardari is apparently driving Bilawal to give a silent message to ‘powers that be’ that there would either be relief, or chaos. Bilawal could very well be his bad cop here, meeting Nawaz, taking the NAB on over Sindh Speaker’s arrest and vehemently defending the 18th amendment.

Meanwhile, PML-N is divided into two camps; Shahbaz Sharif’s and Nawaz Sharif’s. The younger Sharif’s camp is so far prevailing and anti-establishment politics is literally non-existent on the ground. PML-N may lend support on military courts without extracting any bargain. Apart from that, Nawaz’s case is to be decided in the court and would have nothing to do with PTI government.

The military courts’ extension will be tabled this month. The PTI doesn’t have adequate numbers in the NA and Senate to pass the extension bill on its own. PPP is trying to bargain. And PML-N doesn’t have much of an option here.

Irrefutably, PML-N’s supreme leader is spending some of the toughest days of his life. His deteriorating health has already created a difficult situation for the government. Initially, Punjab government allowed the elder Sharif to go for a medical check-up but the hospital didn’t even have basic cardiac treatment facilities. That’s why Nawaz is now adamant at staying in jail rather than being admitted to a hospital for treatment. Previously, IHC had also rejected his bail application on medical grounds. The government is panicking a little. PM Imran Khan himself ordered Punjab CM to provide all possible medical facilities to the former premier. But that is all it can do. Any other action will have political implications. But PML-N’s support may also be needed for the extension of military courts.

In such circumstances, the meeting between Bilawal and Nawaz may turn out to be the basis for a future alliance between the PPP and PML-N but it is too early to say anything.


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