After the decision of the Accountability Court to indict Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law in corrupt financial practices, the political scene has changed in Pakistan.
Political instability and uncertainty have increased while the judicial system is showing its strength and power in the country. Nawaz Sharif , his dynasty and the PML-N are in a real danger of losing their power, prestige, unity and rule. Although the PML-N and its leadership are using every tactic to avert this grave and existential crisis, there are many signs and facts which demonstrate that Sharif’s dynasty and the PML-N’s unity are about to end.
The Sharif family and many PML-N leaders are severely criticising the JIT and the Apex Court’s decision to prosecute Nawaz Sharif and his family on corruption charges. They are trying to project this case of mega corruption as a civil-military conflict. They are also calling it a conspiracy against the Sharif family and democracy. Many PML-N leaders like Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, State Minister Talal Chaudhary, Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique etc are openly saying that the army and judiciary have hatched a conspiracy to oust Nawaz Sharif from the office of the prime minister.
Other political parties like the PTI, the Awami Muslim League, the PAT, the JI and, now, even the PPP have rejected the PML-N’s propaganda campaign and false accusations against the army and the judiciary. They are terming it as a tool and strategy to save the Sharif family from accountability. This has created an environment of confrontational politics in Pakistan. Not only confrontational politics, but also political uncertainty will increase in the coming days in the country.
Confrontation is also prevailing among the members of the PML-N within the party. Now, it is an open secret that there are two groups – one led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the other by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in the party. Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza’s latest statements regarding Nawaz Sharif and his policy clearly shows that the differences between the two brothers and their families are very serious, and hard to reconcile.
There is no doubt the PML-N is in a real danger of disintegration and disunity. Many members of the PML-N have already raised their voice in favour of Shahbaz Sharif’s selection as the party head. Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada has categorically said that “Shahbaz Sharif should take over the PML-N as he better understood the people’s issues. If Shahbaz Sharif led the PML-N, a major political force in the country, it would be in the greater interest of the party”.
“Shahbaz has played it smartly. In his nine years of chief ministership, he created his own following in the party. On the other hand, Nawaz kept party members and general public at bay – and remained surrounded by a handful of favourites,” a PML-N National Assembly member told the Express Tribune.
“Shahbaz accommodated the powerful lobbies in provincial government and has acquired the role of a father-figure in the Punjab chapter – the bastion of our political strength,” added the lawmaker. “So, in case of any eventuality, Shahbaz has appeared as the obvious choice.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, the MNA told The Express Tribune that there was a feeling among the PML-N ranks that Shahbaz had not been rewarded for his sacrifices for the party.
Kanwar Dilshad, a constitutional expert who has previously served as secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), said: “The PML-N stood the test of time and survived an adversary as powerful as General (retd) Musharraf mainly because Nawaz had a loyal aide and supportive brother in the form of Shahbaz by his side. The N-League is again faced with existential challenges. But this time around, the threat comes from within, and there is no Shahbaz to count on” .
According to political analyst and writer Dr. Hassan Askari Rizvi , “There is disquiet, confusion and concern in the PML-N but not to the extent that they will dump Nawaz and opt for Shahbaz at this stage” . “If Nawaz is convicted by the accountability court and he backs Shahbaz as his successor then transition would be easy, otherwise, there will be confusion and we don’t know how far will Shahbaz be able to lead the party in defiance of Nawaz Sharif”. “At this stage, things have not reached the point where Shahbaz can act in defiance, especially till Nawaz is convicted,” he added.
While many PML-N members are of the views that Nawaz Sharif’s present policy is giving a chance to “hidden hands” for creating internal division in the party. “When you sideline your time-tested aides like Shahbaz, Nisar [Ali Khan] and Mehtab [Abbasi] and rely on newly-born politicians like Maryam Nawaz, you are bound to face the music,” said a senior PML-N leader.
PML-N Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq termed the reports of any rift in the party as the wishful thinking of rivals. “Such attempts have been made in the past countless times and failed. If we can survive Musharraf’s dictatorship, trust me, we can survive anything… come what may!”
But, it is also a fact that the Hudaybiya case or the Model Town killings case is also hanging like a sword of Democles over Shahbaz Sharif which makes his option as the party head weak. Secondly, Nawaz Sharif wants to keep the leadership in his immediate family. Thirdly, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam will not give up their egoistic approach. In spite of listening to the seasoned and old loyalists, they will rely on “political paratroopers or new party entrants” Danyal Aziz, Talal Chaudhry, Muhammad Zubair and Marriyum Aurangzeb. Fourthly, the PML-N’s senior leaders like Chaudhry Nisar, Khawaja Asif, Mehtab Abbasi, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal and Raja Zafarul Haq along with Shahbaz Sharif are not willing to accept Maryam as their leader.
So, these tensions and differences among the party will increase as the trial of the Sharif family advances. Crucial and testing times are coming for the Sharif family and the PML-N!