Former Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan is fast becoming popular among legislators of the ruling party, who are against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s policy of clash with national institutions after his disqualification. It is said the former minister heads a group of 140 members of the National Assembly (MNAs) of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and they will announce their “independence” at an appropriate time.
Though the former minister, who is known for his independent views, has not quit the party despite serious differences with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, yet he does not spare any opportunity to criticize his advisers. He believes his sincere suggestions were ignored by the former prime minister and instead he gathered flatterers around him, which not only harmed him but also the party. In the last meeting of the cabinet after the joint investigation team (JIT) presented its final report to the Supreme Court in the Panama case, he told the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that only a miracle could save him. He also expressed his reservations over the way the legal team of the ruling party handled the Panama case. He was also critical of hard-hitting speeches by some ministers in which they used harsh words against the judiciary and the military. He advised the former prime minister to avoid confrontation with state institutions, but he did not like his advice and said he could have expressed his views in private. It is said he had advised Nawaz Sharif not to appear before the JIT, but he ignored it.
Weeks ago, he once again voiced his displeasure over the handling of the Panama Papers issue and blamed advisers for the disastrous situation the party had faced in the wake of Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification. Speaking at a meeting of the central working committee of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which was convened to formally endorse a decision to nominate Senator Yaqoob Khan Nasar as the party’s acting president, he criticised the party leadership for convening the meeting to endorse a decision which had already been taken in Lahore. “What is the purpose of the meeting when we have already learned about the nomination of the acting party president through media reports?” he asked party chairman Raja Zafarul Haq in the presence of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
At a news conference days before the announcement of the Panama Papers verdict, the former minister confirmed reports of rifts in the party, when he said he had been excluded from the consultative process on the case. He had decided to quit the party but a delegation, headed by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, managed to dissuade him. About his differences with the party, he said he had distanced himself from the party over a difference of opinion. “Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi tried to convince me till the last minute over my decision to resign, but I refused to accept any portfolio for some reasons and ultimately disassociated myself from the ministry,” he explained.
Recently, he also traded barbs with his former colleague in the cabinet, ex-Information Minister Pervez Rashid, who was sacked for his failure to stop the publication of a controversial story about a national security meeting in October last year, when he criticised the role of the interior ministry. Reacting strongly to his interview, Nisar said few people were shifting the blame of their own mistakes to the interior ministry and the establishment. “If they are innocent, they should advise their government to make the Newsleaks committee report public,” he dared him. His absence from Nawaz Sharif’s homecoming rally was also noted by the media. “I never told anyone that I would drive Nawaz Sharif’s car to Lahore,” he said when asked about his absence. He also informed the media about growing alienation of the former prime in the party when he asserted, “90 per cent of the central leadership is not present in the rally… why I am the only one being targeted.”
In fact, fissures had started widening in the ruling party after the Supreme Court launched investigations against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family over the Panama leaks. Scores of party legislators believed the prime minister should have stepped down to save democracy. A debate, which continued in the party for months, came out in the open. The then Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan was tipped as the most suitable person to succeed Nawaz Sharif.
Last year, differences among top leaders of the party had intensified when former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif was recovering after his heart surgery in London. In his absence, the then Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan developed problems with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as he thought he was the senior most member of the cabinet, therefore, it was his right to look after the affairs of the state in Nawaz’s absence. Nawaz Sharif, however, entrusted Dar with the task of looking after the state affairs. The former interior minister was unhappy because Dar and Maryam, daughter of the prime minister, worked as the former prime minister’s deputies and did not bother to consult him on any issue. In those days, former Defence Minister Khawaja Asif was very close to Dar while Khawaja Asif and Nisar Ali Khan have an old enmity and publicly admit their dislike of each other.
In the absence of Nawaz, around 70 of the party MNAs staged a silent rebellion against “Acting Prime Minister” Ishaq Dar for what they called his “arrogant and rude behaviour” towards the ruling party lawmakers. They also boycotted the budget speech of the finance minister. In the past, relations between ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan deteriorated many times, but Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif mediated between them.
It is said over 50 MNAs of the ruling party held a meeting to decide about their future after Nawaz Sharif was disqualified. The number has risen to 140 after the ousted prime minister chose to adopt a confrontation policy towards national institutions. They are silently supporting the former interior minister. However, they will not remain silent for long. Seeing the former minister and his family in jail or escape abroad in the wake of corruption charges, they will leave the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and join the Pakistan Muslim League-Nisar.