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November 5, 2006
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Government’s move to woo Shahbaz

November 5, 2006

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ISLAMABAD: One of the top unofficial aides of President General Musharraf is learnt to have approached exiled former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif for a deal that allows him to return home with his immediate family, but clearly excludes his elder brother and former premier Nawaz Sharif.

Reliable official sources confided to this correspondent that the contact was made last month. However, response from the junior Sharif was not favourable. The indirect contact of President Musharraf has been made through Brig (r) Niaz who is known for his close association with the general, and has also been an indirect contact person between the Sharifs and Musharraf for many days and months now.

“It was conveyed to Shahbaz in clear words that he was welcome on Pakistani soil along with his children and mother. He could take part in politics. But his elder brother Nawaz Sharif and immediate family members of his wouldn’t be allowed to return,” one of the confidants of President Musharraf told this scribe on condition of anonymity.

Shahbaz Sharif made an aborted attempt to come back home in mid 2004 but was sent packing by the government to Saudi Arabia the same day he landed at the Lahore airport on the premise that he along with his elder brother had signed a 10 years exile deal in return of their freedom. Both the brothers along with their immediate family members went into exile in 2000 through a Saudi brokered deal. The government still insists that the written agreement binds both of them and their family members to stay away from the country for 10 years - almost six years already completed. Both the Sharifs and their party leaders deny the existence of the written deal agreement, till date.

Shahbaz went to London from Saudi Arabia in mid 2003 for medical treatment and has been living there ever since. Nawaz Sharif also landed in London in January 2006 and kick started political activities with full thrust.

Sources close

to the Sharif family say ever since the death of their father Main Mohammad Sharif, the elder brother Nawaz Sharif, is in complete control of the family affairs and politics. “But Shahbaz has toed a relatively soft line on Gen Musharraf and the military regime since the military coup in October 1999 that ended the family rule in the country. But ever since Nawaz Sharif landed in London, the younger Sharif has almost been reduced as a figure head as elder brother is calling the shots in politics from over there,” a government official at the helm of affairs observed. Officially Shahbaz is party president, but Nawaz is its Quaid - the top leader.

Nawaz was prime minister and Shahbaz Sharif remained Punjab chief minister since the 1997 polls that gave their party a landslide victory all over the country. In his glory days from 1997 to October 1999 Nawaz ousted a sitting president, got into serious dispute with the then chief justice, ousted an army chief, installed a president of his own liking, and almost sacked Gen Musharraf from the post of chief of army staff, but landed in jail as the army revolted against him resulting in October 1999 bloodless coup. Since that day, Shahbaz and his close party associates have maintained that they were not part, or aware, of the scheme of things to oust Gen Musharraf that fateful day of October 12 - an aspect of the high drama also pin pointed by President Musharraf in his recently published book thhat stopped short of endorsing Shahbaz’s point of view on his innocence.

But close aides of President Musharraf still insist that the General privately admits that the country needs a politician like Shahbaz as he delivered as Punjab chief minister on major issues concerning the province. “This is perhaps the reason that some powerful quarters in the ruling establishment want him back. But the hard stance of Nawaz Sharif towards General Musharraf is proving a major obstacle in this regard,” the presidential aide said. “We are sure that the elder brother (Nawaz) knows if Shahbaz is back to homeland then he will take the steam out of the whole case Nawaz has built against the regime throughout this period.

But in case the reported chances of a Benazir-Musharraf understanding realizes into a formal deal, the Sharifs could then launch Shahbaz as a campaign leader for 2007 polls,” he added. Sources close to the Sharif family claim that Shahbaz’s new wife Tehmina Durrani wants to see her husband rule the roost. “She thinks he has got all the ingredients and experience to become prime minister of this country, but is under the shadows of his elder brother.

On the other hand, wife of elder brother, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, who spearheaded for one year Sharif family’s political campaign as both the Sharifs were behind bars from October 1999 to December 2000, does not want Shahbaz to return to Pakistan through any back channel deal with Gen Musharraf,” they added.

Some unofficial aides of Gen Musharraf also think that Shahbaz Sharif’s return to homeland could be very beneficial for the future of ruling PML. A proposal to unite the ruling party with PML-N was shot down by Nawaz Sharif last year, even when people close to Ch Shujaat Hussain had reportedly assured Shahbaz could head this unified party. Ever since there has been no movement of this front, informed people say.

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