Saturday December 03, 2022

PML-N negotiates power with powerful but far from conclusion

The tweet was deleted after a few hours. It can’t be ascertained whether he was asked to delete or he did so independently

February 05, 2020

ISLAMABAD: A close relative of PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi tweeted a couple of days ago. The information contained in it was not less than a breaking news. “SKA [Shahid Khaqan Abbasi] opposition leader IA [Inshalallah] next week,” Farrukh Abbasi tweeted on February 2.

This rang alarm bells in the PML-N circles. The tweet was deleted after a few hours. It can’t be ascertained whether he was asked to delete or he did so independently. However, it was not far-fetched information. As the party is negotiating power with the power-brokers, there are parallel proposals under consideration. Naming Shahid as an opposition leader is one of them. Background discussions with informed sources reveal that the party leadership has been in active contact with the power-brokers. An important official flew to London two months ago for negotiation as governance is going from bad to worse. Several options came under deliberation. Whether there should be changes at some level or going straight to the next election is a solution, are two major options. According to the formula for change, the national government is considered an option with major parties having representation in it.

This doesn’t go well with PML-N. For right now, at least. Shehbaz Sharif isn’t ready to assume any role in the national government considering the fact he can’t be an independent administrator in this setting. He rather suggested holding fresh elections. The point was noted. In case immediate elections are not possible, who could be the party’s nominee for a key position? He was asked. Shahbaz is said to have promised to reply after holding a consultation with Nawaz Sharif.

Later, he conveyed the name of Khawaja Asif. After a few days, Khawaja’s name was replaced with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as nominee for the key post. Other than the Center, change in Punjab also came under discussion with the important person who has visited London 2-3 times in a couple of months. In the heart of heart, Shahbaz wanted his son, Hamza, in Punjab but the negotiator demanded names outside the Sharif family. Keeping in view that condition, the following three names were proposed in order: Malik Ahmed Khan, Rana Mashhood Ahmed and Mian Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman.

Parleys notwithstanding, the PML-N leadership is still double-minded about the way forward. Already discredited in the eyes of supporters due to “unconditional support” that it extended to the amendment bill passed through the Parliament for army chief’s extension, the leadership understands it needs time to regain confidence. Becoming part of an in-house change will solidify the impression that it is the outcome of a deal, an impression Nawaz didn’t want to create. More so because of the erosion of confidence in him that he had garnered after facing many hardships. Shahbaz Sharif, however, believes that getting back to power will boost the party which can’t sit in the opposition for a long period.

Maryam Nawaz is on the same page as her father. Instead of blaming him for the decision of “unconditional support” to the amendment bill, she is gunning at the messengers. Khawaja Asif, Rana Tanvir and Ayaz Sadiq are bearing the brunt of this decision together with Shahbaz Sharif. Shahid is her natural ally in this conflict. Nawaz camp plans to launch him as the face of resistance. He is also qualified for the role because he had abstained from voting on the amendment bill by not showing up that day in the assembly despite the production order of his release. Meetings of media persons are being lined up with him during the court appearance in order to portray him as the true representative of the PML-N ideology.

It is in this context that his name as opposition leader is being touted and Nawaz Sharif asked him to apply for the bail which he had been refusing to seek until recently. He has applied for it now and is likely to be set free soon. The only hurdle against his release was the refusal to seek bail as NAB has failed to establish charges against him. Whether Shahbaz submits to the suggestion of Shahid as his replacement in the National Assembly or not remains to be seen.

Deal or no deal? There are still many “ifs” and “buts.” Both Sharifs don’t want a share in any in-house change and for entirely different reasons which are explained above. The mid-term election is a preferred option for them. Not only will the elections bring them at stronger footing morally, but they may also be able to form the government of their choice.

In the meanwhile, efforts are afoot to launch a new party sans Sharifs and Chaudhrys of Gujrat. Several old Muslim Leaguers have been interviewed for the purpose. Given their political standing, they are good for nothing. Nevertheless, it is not known what the alternative plan is in the mind of the power brokers this time.