Rumours are rife that work has begun on a relief package for Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Word has it that the Hudaibiya Paper Mills money laundering and Model Town cases are being put on the back burner to save the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from disintegration and politics of the Sharif family.
According to analysts, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his camp, including his daughter Maryam Nawaz, Senator Asif Kirmani, ministers Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, Talal Chaudhry and Daniyal Aziz, will continue to savage the establishment and the judiciary to get maximum relief from the courts in corruption cases. On the other hand,it is said that Shahbaz Sharif will pretend to oppose his elder brother and his camp’s confrontation policy to get maximum relief for himself and his son Hamza Shahbaz in the Hudaibiya Mills and Model Town cases. It is said the powers-that-be do not want a party, which they have promoted and nurtured for over three decades, to fade away and they have chosen Shahbaz Sharif to head it as he is more flexible than his elder brother and much closer to them.
Efforts to provide breathing space to the ruling party have expedited after cracks started widening in it. Voices are growing in the party against the election of Nawaz Sharif as PML-N president despite his disqualification by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada suggested Shahbaz Sharif lead the party since Nawaz Sharif was facing trial in corruption cases. What Pirzada said could be his personal opinion, but it reflects aspirations of a group in the party. Few days ago, over 60 PML-N legislators from the Punjab met to discuss their future. They asked Nawaz Sharif to announce a clear roadmap to the 2018 election and tell them who would lead the election campaign. According to another report, more than 70 PML-N MNAs, who call themselves a “worried group,” have held several meetings after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif.
Many PML-N lawmakers endorse Riaz Pirzada’s criticism of Nawaz Sharif on his re-election as the party head and believe his proposal to replace Nawaz Sharif with his younger brother is the only viable solution for the party. “At the moment, most PML-N parliamentarians are confused and want Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif to have a sitting with us to give us a clear direction leading to next year’s election,” Punjab Minister for Labour and Human Resource Raja Ashfaq Sarwar told the media. He was among the ruling party MPAs, who recently met in Lahore. It is said the legislators, mostly from south Punjab, also discussed the formation a forward bloc in the party to negotiate better packages with the Sharifs ahead of the election.
Against the backdrop of the rifts, the Sharif family has adopted a two-pronged policy to keep the party intact and extract some relief from the establishment. The two brothers and their families are trying to create an impression among workers and legislators that they have no differences. Nawaz Sharif and his camp continue to target the judiciary and the establishment while Shahbaz Sharif and his son, Hamza Shahbaz, appear to be opposing his confrontation policy in public, but it is part of their strategy. It is said the two brothers have a minor difference of opinion on some issues but their children, Hamza and Maryam Nawaz, have serious rifts. The family attempted to play down the rifts by arranging a meting between the two. The media highlighted their meeting, said to be the first since the onset of the Panama Papers. They met at the Sharifs’ Model Town residence after the intervention of their elders. Shahbaz Sharif “mediated” between the cousins. According to media reports, Shahbaz advised Maryam to abandon confrontation, because a clash with the judiciary or the military would neither benefit the country nor the PML-N. “Confrontation among institutions is not in the interest of the country,” Shahbaz said after the meeting. Following in the footstep of his father, Hamza said a clash of institutions would be harmful for the system. “All of us should work together. I love my forces — the army, Rangers and police,” he said, apparently against the policy of his uncle. He also told the media he and his father had failed to dissuade Nawaz Sharif and his daughter from adopting a policy of confrontation with institutions.
According to PML-N insiders, Maryam was directed by her father not to take on the establishment and the judiciary for some time, after he received a “serious message from some quarters.” According to some analysts, work has already started to provide a National Reconciliation Order (NRO)-like relief package to the Sharifs. Others say the situation has changed now and another NRO is impossible to draft and implement. When former President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf had drafted the NRO, under pressure from international forces, to pave the way for Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and his family to return from exile, the judiciary and Imran Khan were not so strong. They will not let it happen again, even if the establishment was forced by international forces to announce some relief package for the Sharifs.
Even if Nawaz Shaif is allowed to leave Pakistan and cases against him are put into cold storage, Shahbaz Sharif will not be able to lead the ruling party for long as the Hudaibiya Mills case could affect his status. The joint investigation team (JIT), set up by the Supreme Court in the Panama case, had written to British authorities for details of a London High Court judgment in the case after it was sealed. Desealing of the case requires some time and it is said all details will be provided to the court in a few months. More cases are also expected against the Sharifs in the next six months and it appears the good cop, bad cop policy of the Sharif brothers will not work.