Maryam Nawaz, the emerging heartthrob of Pakistan

Maryam Nawaz has sent out a strong political message, though full of risks, by accompanying her dad and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan

Twitter/@tariqbutt_
Twitter/@tariqbutt_
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Dhairya Maheshwari

July 13 will be remembered as a watershed moment in Pakistan’s politics. A former and hugely popular Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, convicted of corruption charges, made a grand political statement by returning to his home country from London to take on the law, which he claims is yet again under siege by the country’s mullah-military nexus.

His final comment from transit, before he boarded a linking plane to his stronghold Lahore, was beamed across the world, striking an emotional chord with many Pakistanis. “I’m aware of the fact that I’ll be jailed, but it’s a very small price to pay for the great mission to save the sanctity of the vote in Pakistan,” Sharif, the head of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) told Reuters.

This may well also be his final campaign pitch for the crucial July 25 vote, in which he is pitted against a rising star of Pakistan’s politics, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf‘s (PTI) Imran Khan. The city of Lahore was in a virtual lockdown, evidenced by Google Maps, as its son made a return to the country, with a stated mission to save Pakistan’s democracy.

Maryam Nawaz

Accompanying Sharif to Lahore was Maryam Nawaz, the 44-year old daughter of the former PM who is now being seen by many as the heir to her father’s political legacy. Maryam has been implicated in the same corruption scandal as well, having been sentenced to seven years in jail to go along with Sharif’s ten-year jail term.

Seen by her father’s side in the last pictures to have emerged of the family, Maryam understands the political implications of the dramatic return that the daughter-father duo undertook. In the lead-up to her arrest in Lahore and the subsequent flight to Islamabad, Maryam had been actively campaigning on Twitter to court the people of Pakistan to stand by the family in their hour or need.

An astute political observer, Maryam was incharge of her father’s successful political campaign in 2013, which saw him being propelled to power for a historic third-term. Till then, she mostly kept herself confined to her personal life, having married a former captain in Pakistan Army, Safdar Awan, at the age of 19 in 1992. The couple begot three children.

Her political prominence in Pakistan could be measured by the fact that both the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the New York Times named her among the 100 most powerful women in the world in 2017. She took a dip in active politics in 2017, in the wake of Nawaz being disqualified as PM by the country’s apex court.

Maryam’s political journey now seems to be approaching a climax. Political observers say that Maryam’s decision to accompany her father to Pakistan signals her willingness to play a more active role in Pakistan’s politics.

Both Maryam Nawaz’s and Nawaz Sharif’s name featured in the Panama Papers for holding assets disproportionate to their wealth. According to an election affidavit filed her in 2018, she owns assets to the tune of Rs 845 million. There seems to be little doubt that the family isn’t involved in perpetuating corruption. But there are bigger stakes to play for now.

Saving Pakistan from re-slipping into a military-mullah-politician nexus (read Imran Khan’s close ties with the military and Islamist extremists) is what they are campaigning against. If social media is any gauge of public’s opinion, the Sharifs seem to be winning the war of perception.


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