Nawaz Sharif's fourth-term dream snuffed out

It is time for Nawaz to revisit his 30 years in politics to find out where he went wrong and make sure his political legatee, Maryam, does not repeat his mistakes

Mazhar Abbas

If one person has truly lost the political battle, he is none other than the three-time Prime Minister of Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, whose fourth-term dream was smashed to smithereens in Pakistan's general elections of 2024. It came to pass despite all the cards he played before and after returning to Pakistan after over three years.

This is a lesson for him to learn as to what went wrong that, in the end, Nawaz was left with no other choice but to nominate his brother Shahbaz Sharif for the premiership, the second time since 2022 and also to see his beloved daughter Maryam Nawaz making a debut as Chief Minister (CM), Punjab. If elected by the Punjab Assembly, she will be the first woman CM of any province in Pakistan.

Nawaz's long political career is all but over. He now can gracefully dream of seeing Maryam emerge as his strong successor and administrator in a bumpy political road as today, the party i.e. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is not as strong as it was in 2013. At the time when Nawaz left Pakistan during former Prime Minister Imran Khan's government in 2021, the PML-N was well-placed, particularly in Punjab but his decision to stay politically dormant for almost three years cost him dearly, evident from the outcome of the election of 2024.

Nawaz is most likely to stay in Pakistan to support his daughter and ensure that PML-N regains its lost glory as the party faces a formidable challenge from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — led by his political nemesis, former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The result of the February 8 election should be an eye-opener. Ironically, the PML-N contested polls as a party and claimed 79 seats, while the PTI, which fought without an election symbol, secured over 100 seats. Even Dr Yasmeen Rasheed, PTI's jailed candidate against Nawaz gave the PML-N supremo a tough run for his vote.

The decision of the PML-N-led coalition including the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) to nominate Shehbaz Sharif as PM was never easy for Nawaz, who was being touted by the party to become PM for the fourth time.

Is this the end of  Nawaz's long political career, considering his age (70-plus) as well as his health? Or there's more to it.

Supporters of Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif cheer as they gather at the party office of Pakistan Muslim League (N) at Model Town in Lahore. —Reuters
Supporters of Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif cheer as they gather at the party office of Pakistan Muslim League (N) at Model Town in Lahore. —Reuters

The question remains as to what went wrong and how PML-N lost the political ground, particularly in Punjab. It's debatable whether the 'vote of no-confidence' against Imran Khan was the right decision to make. However, what followed was even more disastrous — the 16 months of the PDM coalition government led by Shehbaz.

Besides, dragging their heels on holding elections when they were due after the vote of no-confidence and Nawaz's insistence on staying in London, provided Imran Khan the space to stage a strong comeback. 

Three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan last year in a bid to get the premier's slot for the record fourth time. The stage was set and neither Nawaz nor his party had ever thought they would not even be able to get the simple majority. 

First, Nawaz delayed his return and then had the general elections, supposed to be held in November, postponed. Last year after the dissolution of the assemblies in August elections were held off unconstitutionally. Even after his return Nawaz further delayed his campaign for the reasons best known to him only. 

In the meantime, his arch-rival Imran Khan faced prison and disqualification followed by a Supreme Court decision upholding the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decision, depriving the PTI of its election symbol — the cricket bat — on the pretext that it didn't hold party polls as per party constitution.

Nawaz and PML-N had a huge advantage over their opponents and yet the PTI-backed independent candidates surprised everyone from PDM to the establishment and in the end, the PML-N failed to get what they had expected, particularly Nawaz.

He was certainly not a happy man on election night as the results started pouring in. He lost from Mansehra, once a PML-N stronghold and had to fight hard to retain his Lahore seat.

How will history remember Nawaz, the only political leader who took the top slot three times but not once was able to complete his term in office and faced both disqualification and conviction in 2016 and 2017? Though both decisions were overturned, by that time the stage was set for his opponent Imran Khan. The PTI founder became the Prime Minister after the 2018 elections, which many believed was the result of the backing from the powerful establishment, which at that time, was led by former army chief General (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa..

Nawaz began his political career in the mid-70s with the backing of the establishment led by late General Ziaul Haq and the then Governor Punjab, Lt General Ghulam Jillani, but with time he grew into a strong political player, particularly in Punjab. While he remained a staunch advocate of a friendly relationship with India, his economic policy was considered better than that of the PPP's government. 

His hate and love relationship with the establishment remains the hallmark of his three terms in power. Whether one agrees to it or not the 'Motorway' will go down into history as a project with an immense significance for economic growth. It was also followed by successive governments including PTI's.

Like all political leaders and rulers, Nawaz may have his positives and negatives; however, it is time for him to revisit his 30 years in politics to find out where he went wrong and make sure his political legatee, Maryam Nawaz, does not repeat his mistakes.

The writer is a columnist and analyst at Geo News, The News and Daily Jang. He posts @MazharAbbasGeo

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this piece are the writer's own and don't necessarily reflect's editorial policy.

Header image: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks, flanked by his daughter and politician Maryam Nawaz Sharif and his brother and former prime minister Shahbaz Sharif, at the party office of Pakistan Muslim League (N) at Model Town in Lahore, February 9, 2024. —Reuters