A recent reshuffle in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) indicates the realization of the truth among the Sharif family that the party should start learning to exist without them. It could also be an attempt to pacify the establishment to get relief for the former ruling family, whose all members are facing serious corruption and money laundering charges, but it could pave the way for the party’s disintegration.
Almost 22 members of the Sharif family and relatives were in politics when Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister of Pakistan after the 2013 elections. Only three members of the Sharif family survived in politics in 2019. PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, who succeeded his brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his disqualification and conviction, has extended his stay in London as he faces charges of money laundering and corruption in Pakistan. His son, Hamza Shahbaz, also faces the same charges and he might not be able to take part in active politics. The same is the case with Maryam Nawaz.
In a clear indication that PML-N President and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, will not return to Pakistan to face the cases against him, he has quit the chairmanship of the all-powerful parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The government and critics believe he used his position to save himself from corruption cases and flee abroad. He had obtained the position after prolonged wrangling with the government in December last year. PML-N MNA from Sheikhupura and former Minister Rana Tanveer Hussain is set to replace Shahbaz Sharif. The PML-N nominated former Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif as the party’s parliamentary leader in the assembly. The position had also been previously held by Shahbaz Sharif.
The sudden decision has lent credence to speculation that Shahbaz Sharif would not return to the country anytime soon. On the other hand, the PML-N claims he would be back in the country before the announcement of the federal budget, as he had extended his stay in London on medical grounds after his doctors suggested more tests. However, reports say there has been resentment in the party over the decisions of the leadership and a group in the party believed that it would be difficult for them to justify the moves before the public and other opposition parties. Some senior party members also fear that Shahbaz Sharif’s decision to extend his stay in London could damage the party. It is said Khawaja Saad Rafique and Mian Javed Latif had expressed concern over the leadership’s failure to lead the party from the front in the parliament.
Reacting to the development, PTI members said that Shahbaz Sharif would not return to the country as he was facing corruption charges and that Nawaz Sharif was also planning to leave the country. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), a close ally of the PML-N and the second major opposition party in the parliament, was also concerned about the changes. It said the PML-N had not consulted it before the important decisions. It is also being speculated that former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan may also be appointed the PML-N president in the absence of Shahbaz Sharif.
The PML-N also approved major changes in the party’s structure after former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was named PML-N’s senior vice president and Maryam Nawaz, daughter of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, was appointed a vice president for the first time. Ahsan Iqbal, who was previously the party’s acting secretary general, was named its secretary general. Hamza Shahbaz was included in the list of 16 vice presidents that also includes Maryam. Both Maryam and Hamza were previously named members of the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). Former Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah was appointed the Punjab president of the party, with Awais Leghari as the general secretary.
The restructuring of the party has also created an impression that those close to Nawaz Sharif have managed to get key posts while those allied with Shahbaz Sharif have been sidelined. The impression gained strength as close aides to the elder Sharif, Rana Tanvir Hussain and Khwaja Asif, got key posts of PAC and parliamentary leader slots, respectively. The party believes the appointment of Maryam Nawaz as a vice president would give fresh impetus to the party. However, her conviction in the Avenfield corruption case may have legal implications for her new role in the party. There is also a feeling in the party that Nawaz Sharif wants a bigger role for her in the party in the days to come and she may eventually lead the party one day. Shahbaz Sharif’s son, Hamza Shahbaz, who has been appointed opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly despite reservations by some senior leaders of the party, could not get a top position in the party’s Punjab chapter despite his wish. The position was given to Nawaz Sharif’s loyalist Rana Sanaullah.
Almost all members of the Sharif family have reached London to avoid corruption cases against them. Nawaz Sharif also wanted to leave Pakistan on medical grounds but the Supreme Court of Pakistan rejected his plea for extension in bail and permission to leave the country for treatment abroad.
Sources say PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, his son Salman and son-in-law Ali Imran have been advised by their legal team not to return to Pakistan in the current situation. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) claimed to have arrested two front men of the Shahbaz Sharif family, who laundered billions of rupees for them. According to the NAB, Shahbaz Sharif, his first wife and two sons, laundered about $26 million. They are also accused of living beyond their known sources of income.
Though PML-N leaders claim that Shahbaz Sharif will return to Pakistan before the budget session, yet the recent changes deny it. Critics say he would not have relinquished two top positions in the parliament if he had an intention to return to Pakistan anytime soon. The Sharifs have always divided top party positions among their family members. They have started appointing people outside the family, which indicates they are willing to leave the party alone. Some analysts claim it is the first step towards a deal, after which Nawaz Sharif will also be allowed to leave the country along with his daughter. In this way, the Sharifs could avoid punishment but the party would disintegrate.