LAHORE: National Assembly Opposition Leader and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif is especially active on Twitter these days. His social media updates are dedicated to COVID-19 and the measures that the government needs to take to counter the spread of coronavirus. On Saturday, he shared a video conference with health experts.
Sharif’s all out involvement in containing the pandemic, at least on Twitter, can further be seen in the PML-N president adding ‘(Stay at home to stay safe)’ next to his name. That his Twitter handle still reads @CMShehbaz, for some, is actual indication of how the former chief minister of Punjab sees himself in the current health crisis.
Sharif’s regular updates on COVID-19, and his repeated messages for the government, have meant that the question marks surrounding his return to Pakistan have only become bolder.
On March 21, Sharif had announced that he’d be returning to Pakistan from the UK, landing in the country the next day. In a video posted on Twitter he said he was returning to ‘fulfill his responsibilities’ at a time the country, and the world, had been engulfed by coronavirus.
On cue, rumour mills started churning. Sharif’s return coincided with growing criticism on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led federal and Punjab governments, with pressure being put on Prime Minister Imran Khan to impose a lockdown in the country. On March 22, the day Sharif landed in Pakistan, PM Imran told the nation, again, that lockdown ‘was not an option’.
And yet, two days later, following the lead of Sindh, the Punjab government too announced a shutdown, which Chief Minister Usman Buzdar dubbed a ‘partial lockdown’. Given that Prime Minister Imran’s loud proclamations had been repudiated, the rumours surrounding Sharif’s return only echoed harder.
Among the loudest among them is the claim that the PML-N, especially after the passage of the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2020 earlier this year, has returned to the good books of the powers that be.
PML-N Vice President, and Shehbaz Sharif’s niece, Maryam Nawaz while lauding the former Punajb CM’s governance,shared a tweet on the party president’s return, saying that “even those who didn’t value [his services] now value them”.
Many analysts interpret “those” as the Establishment, which Maryam and her father, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, were vocally at loggerheads with in the lead up to the 2018 General Elections.
While that largely remains conjecture, with party insiders also limiting their suggestions to a “tilt in the power corridors” which has been “necessitated by the incompetence of the government”, what is undoubted is that since his return Shehbaz Sharif has been a man on a mission. It’s the interpretation of this mission, rather the route taken for its culmination, which has varying interpretations.
“[Shehbaz Sharif] shouldn’t be welcomed. He is here for his politics. He should stop believing that this nation is idiotic. [The Sharifs] have looted this country mercilessly. For them education and health never meant anything. What did they do for health in their tenure?” said political analyst Haroon Rasheed.
“[However], the biggest disaster that Imran Khan has imposed on this country is in the shape of Usman Buzdar – which is not really Buzdar’s fault,” he added.
There has been widespread criticism on the Punjab chief minister, with widespread dissent against him within the ruling PTI as well. Federal Minister of Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry has been an open critic of Buzdar.
However, the PML-N leadership is adamant that the return of their president doesn’t have anything to do with doing one over the government and the ruling party.
“[Shehbaz Sharif] is here to lead the opposition and his party amidst the attack of coronavirus. Our first responsibility is to tackle the virus, and use all our resources in this regard. Because if such a calamity comes it is better to do whatever is in our capacity instead of looking to the government. But hopefully the government will do its job as well,” said senior PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique.