Parting of ways

June 24, 2018

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claims to have endured the ‘burden’ of Nawaz Sharif for 34 long years. Together they shared many secrets and conspiracies. Then why break up ties with PML-N?

Parting of ways

Did Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan carry the ‘burden’ of Nawaz Sharif for 34 years? Does Nisar owe Sharif anything? Are these the more important questions? Really? In my view, a more pertinent question would be: why did Nisar, who said he never compromised on principles, keep silent for all these years? He has after all shared secrets and conspiracies with Sharifs since 1985.

What eventually led to the breakup of this long association is a mystery. Still, it will haunt the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) politics in future, as Nisar’s outbursts will always make headlines in the media. Unlike the exit of Javed Hashmi, Nisar’s departure from the party may prove very damaging.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan draws political strength from his constituency in Chakri, Punjab, and has retained his seat in the National Assembly since 1985. He may have an attitude problem, he may flaunt his own distinct style both as minister and MNA, but he has an undisputed reputation for working for his constituency -- Chakri. With his vote bank intact, "there’s a good chance he will win the seat -- this time as an independent candidate," says a senior journalist who has his vote registered in Chakri.

However, it will be detrimental to the politics of Nisar to lose to a PML-N candidate in the upcoming general elections.

Both Sharifs and Nisar began their political journey together during the heydays of General Ziaul Haq. They entered the assembly in 1985 in an election held on non-party basis while upholding the anti-Bhutto, anti-PPP agenda.

Nisar’s brother, late Lt. General Iftikhar Ali Khan, who was Secretary Defence between 1997 and 1999, is credited for making Nisar a key player in initiating Sharif’s relationship with the establishment. Nisar’s recommendations on the appointment of army chiefs during the PML-N government were consider final. Such suggestions include the appointment of General Pervez Musharraf and General Raheel Sharif.

Nisar was considered a vital member of the core PML-N committee. He held key portfolios during the three governments of PML-N, as petroleum and natural resources and interior minister. However, his critics assert that he was inactive during the nine years of Musharraf’s rule, particularly before Sharifs left Pakistan. Nisar has defended his position though, stating that he faced the longest house arrest in Musharraf’s government.

All was well between Ch. Nisar Ali Khan and Nawaz Sharif till the PML-N swept the 2013 elections. For the first time, he was nominated as minister of interior unlike in the past when he acted as minister of petroleum and natural resources. The differences actually started surfacing within PML-N when Nisar accused Khawaja Muhammad Asif of conspiring against him to become the leader of opposition when he was sick and under treatment abroad in the last PPP government. He was not happy over Nawaz Sharif maintaining silence on the issue. As prime minister, Sharif never tried to ease tension between them even though the two were cabinet colleagues.

It was Nisar’s discomfort with Sharif and Zardari getting cozy in ‘friendly opposition’ that damaged the relations between PPP and PML-N. In fact, he is one person who can be attributed for breaking the ties between the two parties.

Sharif continued to consult Nisar on sensitive issues such as the trial of Pervez Musharraf, negotiations with Taliban, crisis of dharna, dealing with General Raheel Sharif, launching the Karachi operation and handling the case of Panama Papers.

Nisar was most disappointed with Sharif when he posed confidence in Ishaq Dar, and practically made him the deputy prime minister.

Except in the case of handling the PPP during the Karachi operation, reopening of inquiries against Asif Zardari and action against Dr Asim Hussain, Nisar’s advice to Sharif was generally unbiased. It was Nisar’s discomfort with Sharif and Zardari getting cozy in ‘friendly opposition’ that damaged the relations between PPP and PML-N. In fact, he is one person who can be attributed for breaking the ties between the two parties.

His advice to Sharif on PTI-PAT dharna was simple: avoid police action. He told me he had opposed the decision of allowing the demonstrators beyond Zero Point in Islamabad. I once asked him about his assessment of the Panama Leaks and the role he played to avert one of the biggest crises faced by Nawaz Sharif, he said, "When we first met after Panama Leaks, Sharif offered his resignation as PM. While some of those present there agreed, others kept silent. I was the only person who said that he should not resign. I also warned him against going to Supreme Court."

Nisar believes that people around Nawaz Sharif who allowed him to address the nation twice, go to Supreme Court, appear before the JIT and address the parliament are actually responsible for the July 28 verdict. His last advice to Nawaz Sharif was to avoid the GT road; instead go to Raiwind by plane and hold the party core committee meeting to decide the course.

In his view, Musharraf’s trial and Dawn Leaks revealed that Nawaz Sharif was ready to take the establishment head on. His position post-July 28 verdict was confrontational with both establishment as well as superior judiciary. Dawn Leaks developed mistrust between Nisar and Nawaz after which he was ousted from the core team of PML-N. He realised that Maryam Nawaz played a key role in changing his father’s decision of any ‘reconciliation’.

Nisar was kept out of all major decisions after the GT road march and was not invited in the party’s General Workers Meeting which elected Shahbaz Sharif as President, PML-N. Though Shahbaz Sharif did go to see Nisar after his election as president of the party.

Once an insider, Nisar knows many Sharif secrets and may drop a bombshell any time. I doubt if Nawaz Sharif or Maryam Nawaz will respond to Nisar’s allegations, certainly not at this point when Begum Kulsum Nawaz is critically unwell.

Nisar did the right thing by not going overboard with his allegations against Sharifs. In fact it would have been better if he had kept the ‘burden’ for some other time. But despite walking into the elections as an independent candidate from his home constituency, Chakri, his target will remain Nawaz and Maryam Sharif.

He may have carried the burden of Nawaz Sharif for the past 34 years but can he absolve his own position on many controversial decisions? He must explain why he carried this ‘burden’ against his principles for so long. And what about his role in the making of IJI, 1990 and 1993 crisis?

There is more than one reason for the break-up. The main one is that Nisar was left out of the core group. He was once so thick with them that he could have possibly replaced Nawaz after his disqualification. But Nawaz Sharif had reasons to be upset, as he couldn’t forgive Nisar for the blunt attack on Maryam.

So far, neither Nawaz nor Maryam have uttered a word against Nisar publicly. But the act of awarding ticket to a PML-N candidate in Chakri has practically brought an end to the long love-hate relationship between the two key figures of PML-N.

Will Nisar join PTI? Imran and Nisar have known each other for years -- in Lahore and London. They have played cricket together and share many things in common. But politics is not cricket and Nisar seems reluctant to say ’yes’ to Imran.

One can’t predict the future politics of Nisar. If there’s one party other than PML-N that Nisar may join, it’s the PTI.

For the time being, the former minister has filed his nomination papers from NA-63 Taxila, NA-59 Rawalpindi, PP-12 and PP-10.

Parting of ways