In principle, ego is the antithesis of popular politics. However, there are always exceptions to the rule – one of them being Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, with a career spanning over 35 years. Despite his ego, he has been a big political name for the last four decades and was counted among the leading lights of the PML-N.
Nisar rose to prominence in the 1985 party-less elections held under Gen Ziaul Haq. His elder brother, Chaudhry Iftikhar Ali Khan, was in the army and ultimately retired as a lieutenant general and a defence secretary. His father, Chaudhry Fateh Khan, retired as a brigadier and later joined politics and was elected as a member of the Punjab Assembly in 1965.
True to his military roots, Chaudhry Nisar has always followed the national narrative set by the security institutions. An Aitchisonian with a liberal global outlook, Nisar – probably sensing the thumb rule of the times – has been a rightist ideologue from the very start of his career. The PML-N’s constant tilt to the right was always ensured by him, and he remained part of every party move – from the making of the IJI to all anti-PPP movements.
Gen Ziaul Haq picked the young and talented Chaudhry Nisar and made him a state minister. At the time, both Nisar and Nawaz Sharif were young and new to the corridors of power. They immediately became friends and Nisar started supporting Nawaz in the Junejo cabinet where Nawaz was not much liked due to his trading background. Later, Nisar was also the main influence on Nawaz on the latter’s decision to side with Gen Zia in the tussle between Junejo and the general.
The Nawaz-Nisar duo worked well and Nisar was Nawaz’s closest confidante in the latter’s first government in 1990. It was Nisar who took care of civil-military relations. He was, however, blamed by Gen Asif Nawaz for souring relations between Nawaz and the army. But, during the Benazir government, he managed the situation with the establishment again and was able to send the government home and bring Nawaz Sharif back into power.
Nisar was again all in all in the second Nawaz government (1997 to 1999). But his advice to Nawaz to appoint Gen Musharraf as army chief instead of Gen Ali Quli Khan led to discord between the two leaders. Although Nawaz acted on Nisar’s suggestion, their relationship became strained after the government was thrown out of power by Gen Musharraf in 1999. Trust was never restored after this incident. During his long exile period, Nawaz became close to Kulsoom and Mariam and they became his closest political confidantes as well.
When the Sharifs came back home and finally formed government again, Nisar expected that his situation would be the same as before. In the past, Nawaz had been heavily dependent on Nisar in both political matters and civil-military relations. This time, though, the former prime minister promoted Ishaq Dar and made him his number two instead of Nisar. This irked Nisar and Shahbaz both and Nisar also restored his old friendship with Nawaz’s rival Imran Khan. Nawaz was informed of these contacts as well as Nisar’s tilt towards the establishment vis a vis the government. The Dawn Leaks incident created further distance between the two, and their weak link continued through Shahbaz who pursued Nisar regularly.
Nisar’s ego can be justified by his roots in the Alpials Rajputs of Chakri. His followers consider him the uncrowned king of Pakistani Rajputs. And, though he is above biradari politics, he is known to protect Rajputs when in government.
Chaudhry Nisar’s departure from the PML-N may actually pave a way for his candidature as CM Punjab – a lifetime dream. It is no secret that Imran Khan likes Nisar and considers him very competent. There is every likelihood that after winning as an independent candidate, Nisar will join hands with the PTI. But the major obstacle in his way will be his old friend Shahbaz Sharif who will be eyeing the same slot after losing hope of becoming the PM of the country. Let’s see whether Chaudhry Nisar’s decision to part ways with the Sharifs will benefit him or damage him politically.
The writer is a senior journalist.