These elections will introduce a new binary to politics: Nawaz or anti-Nawaz. This may sound strange to anyone who is familiar with the1970s, 80s, and90s when Bhutto or anti-Bhutto was the prevalent binary. The choice was stark. Either you stood by the masses and voted for Zulfiqar and Benazir Bhutto, or you supported the pro-establishment coalition, often led by Nawaz Sharif. In an ironic twist of fate, the roles are now reversed. Nawaz Sharif has taken the pro-masses position that the Bhuttos once championed, while Pakistan Peoples Party is now in the pro-establishment camp. For some, Nawaz Sharifs’s change of heart is insincere given his tainted past. This position ignores the fact that almost none of pro-masses leaders were saints. Once you switch sides either way, your past, however dubious, is ignored by your new coalition. Asif Zardari’s tales of corruption are now irrelevant since he joined the “good” guys. When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto decided to challenge the establishment, the masses chose to ignore his past loyalty toward Iskander Mirza and Ayyub Khan. People remember Nawab Akbar Bugti for his heroic struggle against Pervez Musharraf, not for the atrocities he committed as Governor Baluchistan in 1973. Another unrealistic expectation we have from our leaders is that they will construct their politics solely on principles and will uphold ideological values above self-interest. Nawaz Sharif’s newfound stance is sometimes seen as a desperate attempt to hold on to power rather than a genuine struggle for democracy. People argue that he has taken this stance only after the establishment decided to part ways with him, leaving no other option for him but to fight for his survival. These viewpoints might carry some truth, but they are not relevant. Intentions do not matter in politics, the outcome does. Even if Nawaz has built this narrative for the selfish reasons, his stance is strengthening the masses and weakening the establishment. Indeed, anti-imperialist struggles are seldom purely ideological. They are more likely to occur where self-interest and need meets compulsion, and Nawaz Sharif is no exception Some leaders like Bacha Khan and Bhagat Singh have demonstrated selfless ideological anti-establishment leadership in the past, but such examples are too few and far in between. Guru Gobind Singh and Shah Inayat Shaheed of Jhok also offered their lives while struggling against imperialism on the behalf of their peasant followers. Even such sacred struggles, however, were built on the economic reality of securing property rights for farmers. Did Ahmad Khan Kharaldefy the British to uphold the values of anti-imperialism, orto conserve his independent control over the regions between Chenab and Ravi? Dulla Bhatti, the hero of Sandal Bar, waged a 10-year long war against Akbar’s imperial taxation system. Jagga Jut, a bandit from Kasur, is revered in folk songs for taking away from the rich and giving to the poor. His is an all too familiar story of exploitation and injustice by the state gradually transforming him into an outlaw. Indeed, anti-imperialist struggles are seldom purely ideological. They are more likely to occur where self-interest and need meets compulsion, and Nawaz Sharif is no exception. Two things are common among the leaders mentioned above. First, they all struggled against the imperialism of their time, and second, they were all defeated. Most unorganized spontaneous movements stand little chance against establishments that operate with strong formal institutions like judiciary, bureaucracy, and military. This time, however, the anti-establishment movement might have a rare opportunity to get even with the imperialist forces. Nawaz Sharif belongs to the country’s most populous and dominant region, enjoys tremendous mass support, and has a daughter in Maryam who is bravely standing by his side in his struggle. Support from social media, consistent economic recovery, and a general public mood against military interventions is also helping Nawaz’s cause. Nawaz Sharif might not be the knight in shining armor we were waiting for, he might not have the kind of past we would appreciate in a leader, or he might not be engaged in anti-establishment politics for the right reasons. Such matters are irrelevant as long as he continues with his anti-establishment stance. Politics should be as much pragmatic as it needs to be ideological. Today, Nawaz Sharif has a clear shot at winning the 2018 elections and taking on the judicial and military establishment. Who knows what the future has in store, but his win in this contest will be a win for the masses. The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Cleveland State University. He can be reached at email@example.com. His twitter handle is @RamblingSufi Published in Daily Times, June 5th 2018.