Where is the PTI groundswell? It was clearly discernable much before we had entered the 2013 election season. The surge began with the PTI’s October 30, 2011, public rally in Lahore. And it persisted much after the elections were over, lasting perhaps until about a few months after the July 2017 Supreme Court verdict disqualifying Nawaz Sharif for life. Then the tide seemed to be turning on its head, first tentatively and then gradually and now it seems to be in full swing — a sort of a tsunami! Nawaz is drawing big crowds — crowds that seem to be as charged as those that one continues to witness in PTI’s rallies. On occasions, the PML-N rallies appear much more high-spirited than those that are being staged by other mainstream political parties. Of course, those that pull big crowds at political rallies are normally not known to have been equally successful at pulling voters on election day. But nobody had expected Nawaz to last for so long after he was implicated in the Panama Papers scandal in April 2016. Nawaz hasn’t just lasted since and survived every onslaught in these 24 months. He also seems to be giving his party’s main rival in the upcoming elections — the PTI — a run for its money. The PPP seems to have already lost its political relevance, thanks largely to Mr. Zardari’s politics sans the PPP’s characteristic populism. No PM once he or she had been ousted from office even less unceremoniously than Nawaz has lasted in the country’s political arena for so long. Not at least since General Zia ousted Zulfikar Ali Bhutto No PM once he or she had been ousted from office even less unceremoniously than Nawaz has lasted in the country’s political arena for so long. Not at least since General Zia ousted Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. One vividly recalls the personal and political fate of ZA Bhutto and his party once he was removed from power. Mohammad Khan Junejo — General Ziaul Haq’s second victim — had disappeared from the scene never to come back. Benazir Bhutto had to wait in the wings with no sign on the horizon of any revival of her political fortunes for almost three years after she was shown the door by Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Nawaz met the same fate after having been sent home by General Kakar following his first stint as the PM. When Benazir was ousted from office for the second time, her party was reduced to an insignificant Parliamentary presence and the former PM was blatantly hounded into self-exilem, seemingly forever. NS was brought back to replace BB, not because in the meanwhile the PML-N had regained its non-existent popularity but because there was no other mainstream political party in the country seemingly compliant enough to serve as the establishment’ political front. And when Nawaz was ousted by General Musharraf and sent into exile it had appeared as if Nawaz had finally reached the dead-end of his political career. Indeed, Musharraf seemed to have effectively taken care of both BB and NS for almost eight long years. It was perhaps only when the US felt it was time for Pakistan to undergo what is known as regime-change that both the exiled leaders could return home. And this is when Pakistan’s proverbial extraterrestrial elements (Khalaai Makhlooq) were pressed into service in earnest by a Musharraf desperately trying to ward off the US machinations. As a result, BB was assassinated within months of her return; and understandably, the assassins and those who hired the killers seem to have become as elusive as the Khalaai Makhlooq (KM). Next the KM pressed into service by his successor — not Zardari but the other one — took care of Musharraf, who is now cooling his heels in Dubai seemingly for all times to come to escape being tried under Article 6 for taking liberties with the Constitution. Of the three PMs that were elected to the office one after the other during Musharraf’s regime, Shaukat Aziz seems to have decided not to come home for the time being for obvious reasons. Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Chaudhary Shujaat, too accidental to be of any political consequence, seemed to have been left to wither away on their own. This short review of the careers of the past PMs of this country since the late 1970s makes it doubly difficult to comprehend the seeming political groundswell that the nation is witnessing for the Nawaz led PML-N on the eve of 2018 general elections. Since his ouster, Nawaz has been doubling for both the government and the opposition — for the government with Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi as the front man and for the opposition, in his own personal capacity conceived as a victim of the KM, which he has successfully cast as the real villain of the piece. Seemingly effectively conned by his ‘double game’, the real opposition — the PPP and the PTI — is seen attacking Nawaz the ‘victim’ instead of Nawaz the ‘incumbent government’. This has enabled the ousted PM to win all the sympathy and empathy he needs to remain vitally relevant in the country’s political arena. In fact as of today, Nawaz seems to have rendered both the PPP and the PTI (notwithstanding its 100-day plan) totally irrelevant in the context of the forthcoming elections. Instead he has set the game in such a manner that the people in general see it as a battle between the all -powerful KM (even the most unversed among the general public knows what the term means) and a ‘powerless’ Nawaz — a sort of contest between David and Goliath! It is not in the character of Punjab to defy authority. But on occasions it has acted out of character. The last time it did so was when it brought Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to power defying the then authority. Now once again Punjab seems to be acting out of its character. And this seems to have caused the KM to panic forcing it resort to dirty tricks against the independent media despite the fact that most of the mainstream media seem already to have been successfully manipulated. The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014 Published in Daily Times, May 24th 2018.