Can Maryam Nawaz take the PML-N forward?


With the JIT report making things extremely uncomfortable for the ruling PML-N in the political arena, it important to discuss what the future might hold for the party. The future, whatever the final verdict in the Panama Papers case, would inevitably centre around Maryam Nawaz.


As pompous, and insulting – both for the body that she was addressing and the human intellect – as her speech after the JIT inquiry was, it is being dubbed as the official launch of Maryam Nawaz’ political career.


It’s never a bad thing when a woman takes the limelight as a leader in our neck of the woods. The countless harms inherent to dynastic politics notwithstanding, it’s even more refreshing for Maryam to have taken the role undisputedly, unlike the PPP, where a sibling rivalry impeded Benazir’s smooth transition to the top.


While patriarchy continues to create inertia against female leaders, one day one would hope to see women independently coming to the top without needing the family name.

But now that Maryam has arrived, what does it mean for the PML-N?


Although from different generations, Maryam Nawaz has always been compared with Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari as the two heirs to their political parties – and dynasties. But while Bilawal has been deservedly credited for bringing new ideas to a redundant PPP – mostly on the human rights front – Maryam appears to be a continuation of her father and uncle.


For a party that convincingly won the 2013 that might actually be a good thing – perhaps even carefully planned. But while that might win the PML-N elections, is it detrimental to the party’s evolution.


The words Maryam used in her speech following the JIT inquisition only reaffirm the monarchical tendencies of the ruling party.


When the ruling family has been accused of atrocious volumes of corruption and they resort to statements like, ‘we don’t know what the allegations are’ (haven’t you watched any news over the past 15 months?) or ‘stop him (Nawaz Sharif) if you can’ – it speaks of unprecedented entitlement, and a self-created aura of being above and beyond the realm of law – that has been synonymous with the PML-N.


Maryam is articulate and speaks well. She needs to realise that the age of ‘josh-e-khitaabat’ would soon make way for well-argued speeches that are based on facts and discussions.


Considering how democracy hasn’t been allowed to evolve in the country, it is natural that Pakistan is still struck in politics of the previous century. But that wouldn’t be the case for too long, and everyone would have to evolve – even the political victors.


The first thing Maryam would have to inculcate in the party is accountability. Because if there’s one thing that Imran Khan has brought to the fore like no other leader in Pakistani history, it’s accountability.


Her rhetoric over the ‘power of the mandate’ is meaningless in the court of law. Highlighting the number of people that vote for you or support you while defending yourself doesn’t speak much for your respect of rule of law – it actually is the very manifestation of upholding mob rule.


With accountability now a buzzword in Pakistani politics, Maryam would have to make sure that it transcends her party and anyone found guilty is taken to the task. None of this would matter in 2018, and mightn’t have as much impact on 2023 either – but after that, with a stable Pakistan that we are gradually crawling towards, any mode of corruption would stick out like a sore thumb.


Ideologically, Maryam might be inheriting the right version of the PML-N for the time. Considering that it has never been an ideological party, the PM’s stance over liberalism (both economic and societal) coupled with his support for minorities is a promising vision, but has little to show in terms of implementation.


If the party does indeed continue its electoral stranglehold over politics, it would need to implement reform to undo the blatant Islamisation of Pakistan’s Constitution and the entire legal system. Nawaz Sharif’s Holi speech this year, where he highlighted a reformist version of Islam and presented a revisionist version of Pakistan’s creation, is what the country’s Penal Code needs to reflect as well.


With the backing of China, which itself isn’t tolerant of Islamism, similar policies could be implemented in Pakistan. For, without ideologically uprooting the ideology, mere killing of jihadists is fruitless. But overcoming the Islamist inertia of over a half a century needs time and right heads at the helm.


Bilawal has demonstrated on many occasions that he has the ideological nous needed to take up such a transformation, albeit without any practical influence over his party let alone the Pakistani voters. Maryam hasn’t had to do any such thing owing to her party’s political dominance. She would have to, in the not too distant future.


However, if her tweets from Sunday are anything to go by, it doesn’t seem like happening anytime soon.