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May 3, 2019

PML-N — present and future

Top Story

May 3, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is set to lead the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the absence of Shahbaz Sharif whose return from London is not expected anytime soon, a development that will set tongues wagging about the backdoor negotiations for brokering a deal with powerful players.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif’s petition before the Supreme Court to seek permission for treatment in London will be heard today. The News has learnt that former prime minister Shahid Khaqan will be notified assenior vice president (SVP), a slot presently vacant. He will be working as acting president in Shahbaz’s absence; also as the leader of opposition in National Assembly. Ahsan Iqbal is likely the new secretary general. This decision was taken in a meeting where the candidature of Khawaja Asif as Parliamentary Leader in National Assembly and Rana Tanveer as PAC Chairman was finalised.

While the announcement regarding changes in parliamentary offices were made on Thursday, the notifications about party offices is expected soon. The News confirmed it from three different sources. One party leader said Shahid Khaqan’s recommendation for SVP office has been made with consensus and “it is most likely be approved by top leadership.” Another party insider said Nawaz Sharif has formally approved Shahid Khaqan’s name for this slot. In addition, he further disclosed, as many as 15 vice presidents are being named. Khawaja Saad Rafique and Ayaz Sadiq are two of them. Ayaz Sadiq refused to comment when approached for confirmation. “I don’t comment on such matters especially when they are related to me,” he said. Marriyum Aurangzeb will be secretary information. No party office is being given to Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

A senior leader, who was also assigned the organisational restructuring of the PML-N, Ahsan Iqbal, confirmed the likely appointment of Shahid Khaqan as SVP. “Since he is former PM and one of the most senior leaders, he is a natural choice for this office,” he said, responding to the question about Shahid Khaqan’s nomination. Asked if Shahid will be the acting president in absence of Shahbaz, he responded in positive. Regarding his own appointment as the secretary general, Ahsan Iqbal said the final decision will be made in two days when office-bearers at central and provincial level are announced.

The recommendations regarding new party office-bearers, parliamentary leaders and PAC chairman were framed by a special parliamentary group called Parliamentary Advisory Group. It was formed when Nawaz Sharif visited the Parliament a few months ago during bail in the Avenfield case. Shahid was made head of this group. Ayaz Sadiq, Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah, Rana Tanveer, Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal are PAG members. There was resentment in the PAG about silence of the leadership on important issues, according to an insider, leaving the party’s rank and file clueless. “We have faced such challenges in the past. We can do this again. Only clarity in direction and leadership on ground are needed. Due to the foregoing, recommendations were prepared for the top leadership,” said a party leader.

Although the PML-N officials ruled out any deal, one party source confirmed that Shahbaz is not expected to come back soon. “A few days ago, he told us he will return on May 6 but also dropped hints of extending stay as he said he is suffering from multiple pains that may necessitate further treatment,” claimed an insider. Another source rather claimed that Shahbaz had his ticket cancelled for May 6.

Why Shahbaz volunteered to quit the chairmanship of PAC, a hard-earned slot as the PTI government was reluctant to concede to this demand? A party leader said Shahbaz didn’t want to have it due to his engagements as party president, but he refused to surrender as it was unanimous decision of the joint opposition to force the government into retreat and keep the tradition intact of giving this slot to the leader of the opposition. Although speculations are rife of possible deal that may brighten chances of Shahbaz as Imran Khan’s replacement at a time when the latter’s government is performing poorly with no hope in sight, the PML-N insiders are not much hopeful. The PML-N is not being considered as an alternative by powers-that-be at the moment. “It appears as if they are looking for replacement from within the PTI if so desired,” said a party official privy to developments.

Nevertheless, the leadership isn’t in a mood to adopt an offensive strategy. A party leader explained this through the PML-N’s position on the DG ISPR presser. While the PPP and JUI-F were critical of the presser, the PML-N leaders were under instructions to either remain silent or endorse the claims and demands made by the ISPR chief about Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement. It has further been learnt that a female member of the Sharif family had also held a couple of meetings with a leading power broker.

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