The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has appointed Shahid Khaqan Abbisi as the new prime minister of Pakistan after the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. As the whole Sharif family, including Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, will face corruption, money laundering and tax evasion charges in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and accountability courts in a few weeks, it appears the ruling party will have new leaders in the next general election.
Sources say there are apprehensions in some quarters that the ruling party has become too powerful and started working like a mafia. It has conquered all institutions, except the army and the judiciary. It is an established fact that it has appointed its favourite people to head all national institutions. Heads of all departments are either relatives of the family or their close aides. Persistent threats to the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) forced the court to call the government a mafia. The example of the MQM under Altaf Hussain is before the whole country. The judges hearing the Panama case mentioned “Godfather” and “Sicilian mafia” during the hearing of the case. It appears the ruling party will not remain the same till the next election. It will either break up into factions or work under a new leadership. Both probabilities are also possibilities.
Rifts in the Sharif family have also sharpened in recent days. They first surfaced after the onset of the Panama leaks. It is said Hamzas Shahbaz, son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, texted messages to anchors, which said, “By grace of God, the family of Shahbaz Sharif is not named in the Panama case, as is the case with the Nawaz Sharif family.” It reflected serious rifts in the family. Initially, only the ousted prime minister, his children and ministers defended the charges, though without much success. Other family members remained silent. Tehmina Durrani, wife of Shahbaz Sharif, stunned the people of Pakistan when she urged the family to return all foreign and local wealth to the nation. In a series of tweets, she said that according to her point of view, keeping offshore accounts was an unethical act. “Doing something against the law is illegal while unethical acts are similar to selling your soul, the latter being a more grave offence,” she added and advised the Sharif family that the only way they could distance themselves from the allegations was to bring back the money saved in offshore accounts and
foreign countries to Pakistan. Neither her husband nor his family reacted to the harsh criticism. Many PML-N workers believed Tehmina Durrani had expressed her feelings with the consent of her husband.
When Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif appeared before the JIT, he did not back the stance of his elder brother and his children in the Gulf Steel Mills case. According to the JIT report, he distanced himself from the functioning of the mills and also refused to verify his signature on the share sales agreement of 1978 of the mill, as was claimed by their cousin Tariq Shafi. Contrary to it, Tariq Shafi had informed the JIT that Shahbaz was involved in the function of the Gulf Steel Mills from 1978 to 1980. Later, Nawaz Sharif summoned his younger brother for an explanation.
It is said Shahbaz Sharif had also advised his elder brother to resign after the JIT report. However, he refused to accept his advice and instead waited for the court verdict, which disqualified him. Before the Panama case verdict, banners were set up on The Mall, Lahore, asking the former prime minister to resign and pave the way for his younger brother to become the prime minister of Pakistan. The banners against the former prime minister were anonymous and all politicians of the ruling party distanced themselves from them. However, they decorated all major roads for a few days, which indicated that the chief minister was pleased with them. Few days later, banners in support of Nawaz Sharif appeared on prominent places in Lahore to create an impression that there was no rift in the party or the family.
In return, Nawaz Sharif adroitly foiled his younger brother’s attempt to succeed him. First, he named Shahbaz Sharif to replace him after an interim prime minister for 45 days. It was also decided that Hamza Shahbaz or Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah would replace him in the Punjab. However, it is said Nawaz Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz and daughter Maryam Nawaz were not willing to accept the new nominations as they could not see Shahbaz Sharif’s wife to become the First Lady, although he has more than one wife. It is said they are also bitterly against Hamza and do not want to see him the Punjab chief minister at any cost. According to party sources, Nawaz Sharif has shattered the dreams of his nephew by convincing his brother that he should stay put in their home province. As Shahbaz Sharif lobbied for his son and also arranged a party meeting in which more than 300 PML-N MPs reposed their trust in Hamza, Nawaz Shaif launched a counter campaign in the party that Shahbaz Sharif should stay in the province to prepare for the next election.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has become the president of the ruling party after the Supreme Court of Pakistan barred Nawaz Sharif from holding any party office after his disqualification. According to the Panama leaks, Nawaz Sharif’s family owns nine companies in the name of his sons Hassan Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz and daughter Maryam Nawaz, Shahbaz Sharif’s relatives own seven, though he is not directly linked, However, the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, with the London High Court verdict and Ishaq
Dar’s confessional statement, could harm the Sharif family more than the Panama case. Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz are also accused in the case. It appears the ruling party will have new leaders in the next elections or would break up into many factions.