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October 22, 2017

Can Sharif keep PML-N intact?


October 22, 2017

Nawaz Sharif strongly feels that neither the 'party is over' nor his politics and is confident of rejoining mainstream politics to lead the PML-N in next general elections.

However, some of his closest aides feels otherwise and believe that the existing political crisis and problems within PML-N are getting too serious and some major decisions are required to keep ‘the house in order’.

With this mindset and the challenges ahead, Sharif decided to return on Oct 24, two days before his next appearance in the NAB court which has framed charges against him, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired Capt Safdar, while Finance Minister Ishaq Dar too is facing trial in NAB.

Sharif has two major challenges to confront with before deciding the party's future course of action: firstly, how to deal with the multiple cases and secondly, the protest movement which is certainly not against his own government but apparently a protest over the Supreme Court decision and the ongoing NAB trial.

In order to meet these challenges, Sharif's first and utmost task would be to keep the party intact. Although there is no apparent forward bloc in the party, the dissenting voices are now coming to surface.

The biggest concern for Sharif is the clear difference of opinion and views of the two party leaders – Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar. Therefore, Sharif is facing a crisis from the close aides who had sided within him even during a difficult period. The other faction within the party includes those who joined the party after 2008 or just prior to last elections in 2013.

Until and unless both Sharifs are on one page over the strategy to deal with the situation and also resolve the crisis within the family, it would be quite a risk for Sharif to launch any mass drive or go for head-on clash. Thus, the utmost task for the PML-N head is to bring the party's hardliners and doves on a common agenda to overcome the crisis.

Sharif in the past faced trial and conviction but that was under a military dictatorship led by retired Gen Pervez Musharraf. Today, he is facing serious corruption charges and has already been disqualified by the Supreme Court on July 28th. He is now facing trial in a NAB court with the direction to complete the process within six months.

Therefore, the countdown has started and the case will be completed by March 19, 2018, which coincides with the Senate elections.

If the reports which I have gathered in the last few days are correct, all is not well in the PML-N and the differences on policy matters are now getting serious.

The ball is now in Sharif's court and it is he who has to take some crucial decisions in the party and above all in the family.

The party is clearly divided on policy matters between the hawks and the doves. Sharif himself is convinced and believes that the ‘GT Road course of action’ was the right path as certain quarters wants to bury his politics and in the process want to divide the PML-N to get some positive results from Punjab.

A divided PML-N would not only benefit Sharif's main rival Imran Khan but also other Muslim League factions led by Chaudhry Shujaat, while the PPP too may bag some seats.

He also sees the efforts to form an alliance of religious parties and to bring the jihadi outfits into mainstream politics and to weaken the PML-N.

The other thinking in the PML-N is represented by people like Shahbaz Sharif, Chaudhry Nisar and even Raja Zafar-ul-Haq. All the veterans are trying to convince Sharif that any move, which may derail the system, would be disaster for the party, as a number of party leaders would not be able to sustain the mounting pressure, with the party in the process also losing the chance to win March, 2018 Senate and next general elections.

However, none of the two at present has any 'clue' how to come out of this judicial crisis, particularly the NAB references.

Sources say the elder Sharif believe that the decision has been taken to bury his politics and no policy of reconciliation or handling cases in professional matters would rescue the situation.

Those close to Sharif think that he strongly believes that had he not protested on the July 28 decision of his disqualification and not followed the GT Road route, the PML-N would have been finished by now.

Sharif is also of the view that the GT Road route gave a new life to the PML-N workers to resist and is still confident that he would not only be able to rescue the party from the crisis but also ensure that it remains intact.

The dissenting voices like Riaz Pirzada or someone like Zafar Ali Shah are not a problem for Sharif. The real internal crisis, which he is finding somewhat hard to tackle, is the position taken by Shahbaz Sharif who may also be facing cases but still sees some light at the end of the tunnel, provided his elder brother reviews his hard-line stance.

Sources say nor Shahbaz Sharif nor Nisar will revolt against Sharif, but they have alerted Sharif about the possible consequences in case he decides to go ahead with his aggressive plan.

The most painful thing for Sharif is the way he has been disqualified and his son humiliated through a photo leak, as he feels that the JIT had been influenced.

He was disturbed with the kind of terms – like Godfather and Sicilian mafia –
used for him and his government. It led to his decision to fight till his prestige is restored.

His decision to return as the PML-N president through a constitutional amendment after disqualification was a clearly indication of his resolve and defiance. He has already rejected the idea to quit politics for the time being, accept the verdict and get mentally prepared for the possible conviction.

Sharif also knows that any deal or NRO will completely ruin his remaining political career. Although he had never accepted the 2000 exile deal, this time he decided to fight.

Whatever position Sharif is going to take will be the party position, but it is he who has to finally decided how to get his strategy implemented in a situation where more dissenting voices will surface in the days and weeks to come.

True or false, the alleged IB letter did cause problems in the party with the people like Riaz Pirzada, who has the track record of switching loyalties, speaking on the issue. More of similar voices could lead to some kind of a forward bloc. However, many MNAs and MPAs are still not sure whether quitting the PML-N will provide any benefit for them, particularly when the PML-N government is not under any threat both in Centre and Punjab.

If Sharif succeeds in convincing Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar, we may see a different PML-N, but going for confrontation without getting the house in order will be disaster for the Sharifs and PML-N and a blessing for Imran and PTI in particular. Ball is in Sharif’s court.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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