- The PML-N in disarray
With the Sharif brothers –Nawaz and Shahbaz- out of reckoning for the time being the PML-N faces an existential crisis. It seems a demoralized Shahbaz Sharif has decided to throw in the towel and spend time in London on ‘medical grounds’.
The elder Sharif’s plea for an extension of his bail rejected by the apex court, he has no option but to return to Kot Lakhpat jail on Thursday when his six weeks respite given to him by the same court expires. In the meanwhile prime minster Khan has reiterated quite vociferously that there will be no deal or an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) like the one issued by former dictator Pervez Musharraf during his tenure.
Shahbaz Sharif’s sudden announcement from London a few days ago to quit the post of chairman PAC (Public Accounts Committee) of the National Assembly was the first indication that something serious was amiss. It is quite obvious that the former chief minister of Punjab is now in no hurry to return to Pakistan.
The post of chairman PAC was a much coveted one by the opposition. It remained a bone of contention between the ruling party and the PML-N. Now all of a sudden Sharif has abandoned it along with relinquishing the position of leader of the house.
Ironically Shah Mehmood Qureshi perhaps amongst the very few PTI MNAs with some political thinking and insight has lamented that Sharif quitting the PAC has upset the apple cart. There are rumblings within the opposition as to how and why Rana Tanveer was nominated for the slot.
Neither the PML-N hierarchy nor the PPP parliamentary party (that had fought hard for Sharif to get the slot) was consulted. But this has always been the signature style of the Sharifs while conducting party business.
When Nawaz Sharif was incarcerated post Musharraf coup he cut a ten-year exile deal with him through the good offices of some friendly Arab countries and virtually no one in the party was consulted. They only learnt about the deal after the whole Sharif clan had already decamped to Jeddah.
In the present context there is no military dictator to cut such a deal. The prime minister is loath not to give the Sharifs any respite.
That leaves the courts and the military leadership. Even the Supreme Court headed by justice Asif Saeed Khosa unlike most of his predecessors is neither cohabiting with the political leadership nor the establishment.
That only leaves the Army chief general Qamar Javed Bajwa to initiate the process of an eventual exile for Nawaz Sharif ostensibly on health grounds. But he studiously kept himself above the fray. Quoting the enigmatic sheikh Rashid that ‘Shahbaz plays on both sides of the wicket’, it seems Sharif tried his best to bail out his elder brother but failed.
The military it seems is adamant to see its project Imran succeed and is fully backing him. Likewise Khan is not keen to upset the status quo and is fully cooperating with the ubiquitous establishment.
Nonetheless Imran Khan seems hell bent upon one goal: not to spare the Sharifs come what may. His is a loud and clear message to all and sundry that he will not play ball with the dealmakers.
Despite a historic downturn in the economy the PTI government is firmly in the saddle. Contrarily, it is the biggest party in the parliament that is in disarray.
The good cop bad cop strategy of the Sharifs seems to have miserably failed. Nawaz Sharif after taking a belligerent line against the establishment post elections is ominously silent. And so is his charismatic daughter Maryam.
Initially the excuse proffered was that Sharif was mourning the demise of his wife. But later on he asserted that first he has to deal with issues relating to his ill health and his legal travails. Politics will come later.
Since his release on bail for six weeks on medical grounds he has studiously avoided meeting his party men as well as other politicians. Maulana Fazl Ur Rehman keen to launch a long march to Islamabad was perhaps the sole exception. However Sharif was upset that he spoke to the media post meeting.
Despite the former chief minster of Punjab’s best efforts to carve a niche for himself as the moderate and pragmatic face of the PML-N ostensibly he has not succeeded in his maneuvers.
The ubiquitous establishment on the surface might mollycoddle him. But in the ultimate analysis does not seem to make any distinction between the two brothers.
Shahbaz the nuts and bolts man might be a doer and deliverer. But he lacks the chemistry that his brother possesses with the party men.
Perhaps a bevy of cases of money laundering against him and his sons by NAB (National Accountability Bureau) was the proverbial last straw. Even if there was an iota of truth in the latest set of allegations so often touted by PTI ministers on talk shows, he is in big trouble.
With elder Sharif back in jail and the younger in temporary exile what is the future of the PML-N? It has never been a party of resistance. Nevertheless it survived the putsch of Musharraf and emerged victorious in Punjab in the 2008 elections and in the 2013 general elections was able to have a comfortable majority both at the centre and Punjab.
In a major reshuffle former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has been appointed senior vice president and Maryam Nawaz as one of the vice presidents. No party or parliamentary meeting was held to make these changes. Shahbaz Sharif simply issued a list of nominated office bearers from London.
There are a lot of rumblings within the party on these appointments without any transparent process of consultations. The PPP is also miffed for not being consulted before replacing Shahbaz Sharif with Rana Tanveer as chairman PAC.
These are tough times for the Sharifs as well as the PML-N. Thanks to PTI’s perennial incompetence the former ruling party of Punjab is still intact. But things could change for the worse if the present impasse continues.
There is little light at the end of the tunnel as no change soon is expected in the power structure. It is another matter if the PTI government falls under the weight of its own incompetence.