ISLAMABAD: The third generation of our political elite is facing a dilemma as they have more to answer for than to offer. They carry the burden of ‘excess baggage’ of the past politics of their fathers before they could be judged on their own merits.
In this context, if one considers the political profile of Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of thrice-elected, thrice-removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of former President Asif Ali Zardari, the latter could be forgiven for assuming he has a slight advantage. Though, it must be said that at present, Maryam has been portrayed by the N-league supporters as a symbol of defiance.
If her appeal against conviction, along with her father, Sharif, and husband, Captain (retd) Safdar, will be rejected, it will result in a prolonged political battle and the only way to get out of this mess would be if her party sweeps the upcoming polls on July 25. However, in case of electoral failure, and the subsequent formation of a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government, life could get much harder for them. Thus, Maryam has two disadvantages, as compared to Bilawal. One, not only has she been convicted but also disqualified to contest, before even making her election debut. Two, her father has been handed down the same punishment.
On the other hand, Bilawal Bhutto is lucky, as, by the time he entered the political arena, his father Asif Ali Zardari was out of prison after spending a decade behind bars and contrary to the perception, no corruption charges were ever proven against him. Moreover, Bilawal is contesting from his hometown plus his youngest sister, Aseefa is most likely to join in the parliament via a by-election.
So while the Sharifs have started their stint in jail, Zardari is out to reap rewards.
The one obstacle is their greatest political rival, Imran Khan, who has termed both Sharif and Zardari as Pakistan biggest political ‘thieves’ and vowed to punish them in case he is voted to power.
What does go in favour of the Sharifs, however, is the narrative they have painted during the last year and a half. They have come across as the only political entities who are considered ‘voices of dissent’ and appear defiant against growing odds. This perception can get stronger with the passage of time if, ‘across the board accountability’ is not followed and only one family and party continue to bear the brunt.
Thus, despite luck favouring Bilawal over Maryam Nawaz , her defiant posture could potentially overshadow Bilawal’s soft image.
Both scions of major political dynasties have had their career chequered with doubt due to allegations on their fathers’ of ill-gotten wealth and other charges.
Maryam’s first foray into the political arena was after Nawaz Sharif was arrested on Oct. 12, 1999 as a result of a military coup led by retd General Pervez Musharraf.
“Hum nahi manthi zulm kay zapthey,” (we don’t agree with these unjust laws) and ‘Down with Musharraf,’ were perhaps her first political slogans, which she raised in an Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi.
While it is still a mystery as to what led to the family’s decision to strike a deal with Musharraf in 2001, there is little chance of yet another controversial deal. And if something of that sort happens again, it would not only be all over for Sharif but also for Maryam.
It is important to note that when the late Benazir Bhutto entered politics, her father was in jail facing a murder trial. He was eventually sent to the gallows. Bhutto never faced the same dilemma that her son and her rival’s daughter are now up against. As politician Sheikh Rasheed, one of Z.A. Bhutto’s fiercest critic, once said, “No one in Pakistan can ever call Bhutto corrupt.”
But can the same be said of Zardari and Sharif?