By Asim Awan
Express Tribune, 24th July, 2010
ISLAMABAD: Like all interesting political stories out of Pakistan, this one also features the establishment at its heart. PML-N insiders are increasingly talking about growing differences between party chief Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz, who is the Punjab chief minister. The core issue, it is said, is the nature of the party’s contact with the military leadership. And it’s this divergence that is manifesting itself in the party’s schizophrenic stance on several issues.
Insiders say the story began in October last year, when Shahbaz and PML-N stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan held a secret meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. When the story made headlines, Nawaz promptly came up with the statement that there was no need for cloak-and-daggers and that the meeting should have been public knowledge.
But Shahbaz held his ground and insisted he attended the meeting in his capacity as chief minister and the agenda had been terrorism. Since then, the younger Sharif has held more meetings with the COAS.
But partywallahs say the meeting was not the issue but a manifestation of political orientation. With the support of PML-N leaders such as Khwaja Asif, Tehmina Daultana, Javed Hashmi and a few others, the elder brother thinks the party should not play games at the behest of the establishment. Their rationale is said to be that not only does the establishment have a history of using political parties for its own gain, the contact would also erode the newfound pro-democracy, anti-establishment image Nawaz has cultivated so assiduously since his ouster by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999.
But the younger brother is said to be of a more pragmatic bent. “Shahbaz thinks Nawaz’s confrontational approach resulted in the Musharraf coup and brought the party in the bad books of the army, which was once its mentor,” says one insider. So with the support of Chaudhry Nisar, Zulfiqar Khosa and a few other top leaders, Shahbaz is said to be vying to re-establish the party’s pro-establishment credentials. The wrangling over policy direction, says a PML-N source, is showing up in other party-related matters, where Shahbaz has been running counter to the line handed down by Nawaz. “The Muzaffargarh and Sargodha by-elections, the issue of the passage of the anti-media resolution by the Punjab assembly are just two examples,” he says.
The former governor of Punjab Mustafa Khar corroborates this. “I filed my nomination papers in the Muzaffargarh by-election against PPP’s Jamshed Dasti after a personal assurance by Nawaz Sharif that the PML-N would support me fully,” fumes Khar. “But two weeks into my campaign, I received a phone call from Chaudhry Nisar, asking me to withdraw in favour of Nawabzada Iftikhar.” Nawaz was in London then, says Khar, and in the meantime, Khar’s ex-wife Tehmina Durrani, who is now married to the younger Sharif, and senior PML-N leader Zulfiqar Khosa prevailed upon Shahbaz to ditch Khar for Iftikhar. “Strangely enough, I found Nawaz Sharif helpless, despite his earlier firm commitment,” says the aging politician.
The Sargodha by-elections are touted as another example. Local PML-N leader and a former MNA from Sargodha, Chaudhry Abdul Hameed tells his nearest and dearest that Nawaz Sharif had promised him a party ticket for his son to contest the election. But again, shortly after Hameed began campaigning for his son, Shahbaz Sharif awarded the party ticket to Tabrez Gill, who is a cousin of former PML-N MPA Rizwan Gill (of the fake degree fame).
This has left Hameed’s supporters seething. But the issue that threw the sparring siblings into the glare of the media was the anti-media resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly, while Shahbaz was in attendance. PML-N sources say MPA Sanaullah Mastikhel, who moved the resolution, had Shahbaz’s blessings. And when Nawaz Sharif issued a statement condemning the resolution and calling for Mastikhel’s dismissal from the party, Shahbaz protected Mastikhel, who was then met with a standing ovation by 40 PML-N MPAs at the next session of the Punjab Assembly.
Party insiders are also talking about the short shrift being given by the Punjab government to Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law Captain Safdar, who was elected as an MNA from a seat vacated by Chaudhry Nisar in Rawalpindi. Sources say a few months ago, Safdar phoned the commissioner of Lahore and asked him to transfer a revenue official, a request the commissioner obliged.
“But then, the commissioner received a call from Shahbaz’s son Hamza, who is an MNA from Lahore, to cancel the transfer orders,” smirks one insider. “When the commissioner informed Hamza Shahbaz that Captain Safdar had asked for the transfer, the young Sharif flew into a rage. He said that Captain Safdar had no business interfering in the affairs of the Punjab government and that he should go back to his home district Mansehra in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and work for the party there. Accordingly, the transfer was cancelled.”
But senior PML-N leader Siddiqul Farooq rubbishes all such reports. “Nawaz Sharif was out of the country when Shahbaz Sharif first met the COAS and Shahbaz took Nawaz into confidence about the meeting on his return and told him it was only in the context of fighting terrorism,” says Farooq. He also claims Nawaz Sharif was misled on the Mastikhel issue by a ‘party leader’, which is why he made the statement criticising Mastikhel in London.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2010.