Dawn – Maryam’s ‘leadership boast’ jolts embattled PML-N

Syed Irfan Raza & Masood Haider

Islamabad/New York, 29 October 2017. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is already reeling from rumours of a split in the wake of the ouster of Nawaz Sharif, was thrown another curveball on Saturday after the daughter of the former prime minister hinted that she might be given a leadership role in the party.

Although Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who celebrated her 44th birthday on Saturday, told the New York Times in a recent interview that there were people who thought she was “meant for a certain role”, she denied ever saying that her family had decided that she should take the reins of the party.

“The statement that ‘the family decided that I should be leading the party’ is wrongly ascribed to me. There never has been any such decision. Nawaz Sharif is and Insha’Allah will be leading PML-N. I am not even an aspirant. Am happy to be working as [a party] worker,” she tweeted on Saturday.

Ex-PM’s daughter disputes NYT quote; leaders say too early to say whether she or Hamza will lead the party

Although both she and senior party leaders deny the impression that the PML-N is a “divided house”, insiders admit there are ‘differences of opinion’ within the party, especially over the leadership vacuum created in the wake of the former prime minister’s ouster.

The impression is strengthened by reports of a rivalry between Ms Sharif and her cousin, Hamza Shahbaz, which is said to have been quelled only after the Punjab chief minister mediated between the two at a recent meeting.

In the NYT interview, Ms Sharif only had praise for her uncle and supported his chances of becoming the next prime minister. “He’s the most competent person. He’s my hero. I love him to death,” NYT quoted her as saying about Shahbaz Sharif.

Local PML-N leader and former MNA Shakil Awan, who defeated Sheikh Rashid Ahmed in the 2010 by-elections, endorsed Ms Sharif’s view, saying that there was no split in the party. However, he maintained that if Nawaz Sharif left office, it was his younger brother Shahbaz who deserved to take his place.

The whole party, he said, had complete confidence in Nawaz Sharif’s leadership. “There is no question about who will become party chief while Nawaz Sharif is still around,” he said.

However, Mr Awan admitted that there were concerns in the party, based mainly on the cases instituted against the Sharif family.

“The whole party is disturbed over why only one family is being targeted in the name of accountability, while those who openly committed corruption and became billionaires within in few years were still free to do anything,” he said.

The whole party believed that while Shahbaz Sharif and even former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan could have differences of opinion with Nawaz, but they all firmly backed the elder Sharif as their leader.

Nisar and his erstwhile cabinet colleague Riaz Hussain Pirzada have recently gone public with their own opinions about who should succeed the elder Sharif; the former doubting Maryam’s credentials and the latter suggesting that Shahbaz Sharif take over from his brother.

Cabinet minister and senior party leader Mushahidullah Khan, however, saw a political conspiracy behind such reports. The opposition, especially the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, he said, wanted to gain political mileage by propagating the narrative that there were rifts within the Sharif family.

“Nawaz Sharif is our party president and his decisions are unquestioningly accepted by party leaders and workers,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of Maryam or Hamza playing a leadership role in the party, he said that all such speculation was purely hypothetical while Nawaz Sharif was still there.

But, if such a decision was to be taken, it would also be made by Nawaz Sharif, he concluded.

Another PML-N leader, Rana Afzal, said that both Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz had different kinds of
political experience, but it was not yet time to consider them to lead the party.



Dawn – Sharif caravan’s crawl and canter puzzle PML-N supporters

Amir Wasim

Islamabad, 11 August 2017. The delayed departure of Nawaz Sharif and his rush to reach Jhelum on the second leg of his homeward journey to Lahore via GT Road on Thursday indicated a lack of planning and coordination within the ruling .

In the morning, the rally waited for more than two hours in the hope of attracting more and more people, but when it did not happen, the convoy rushed out of Rawalpindi district bypassing the planned stopovers in Rawat and Gujar Khan, disappointing the local leaders who had set up camps to receive their leader.

Interestingly, the vehicle ousted prime minister Sharif was travelling in sped up all of a sudden while passing through the constituency of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, making it difficult even for the other vehicles, including those carrying the personnel of protocol and security, to keep pace with it.

They, however, managed to catch up with him only when Mr Sharif made a brief stopover at Sohawa.

The former interior minister was present in the Parliament House when Mr Sharif’s convoy was passing through his constituency.

Mr Sharif had himself announced on Wednesday night during his unplanned address at Committee Chowk in Rawalpindi that they would begin their journey at 11am. However, the local Pindi leadership kept on delaying the departure due to an unimpressive gathering at Kutchery Chowk, the starting point for the rally for the second day.

The unusual and unnecessary slow pace of the rally from Islamabad to Rawalpindi on the opening day has strengthened the claim of critics and opposition parties that the PML-N leadership had not received the response it was expecting from the people.

The opposition alleged that the PML-N leadership had intentionally adopted a “go-slow” strategy in order to provide the organisers time to ensure the presence of the maximum number of people.

Sources claimed that Mr Sharif through his close aides had even conveyed his displeasure to the Pindi leadership over the lack of coordination and poor arrangements.

It was because of the lack of planning that most of the TV channels missed the live broadcast of Mr Sharif’s first-ever direct speech to the public after his ouster at Rawalpindi’s Committee Chowk as the former prime minister was not scheduled to speak at this point, according to the initial plan.

Meanwhile, Chaudhry Nisar through his spokesman in the evening denied reports aired by some TV channels quoting him as saying that he had not accompanied Mr Sharif because of backache.

The clarification issued by the former interior minister, however, once again created a controversy when he indirectly criticised other party leaders for not joining the convoy. He said the backache was not the actual reason for his decision to stay away from the rally.

“The fact is that 99 per cent of senior party leaders are not present in the rally. Why am I only made a controversial person?” he asked, apparently indicating that besides him, there are others in the party who are not happy with Mr Sharif’s decision to go to Lahore via GT Road.

The media reports claim that Chaudhry Nisar wanted Mr Sharif to travel via Motorway and hold the rally only in Lahore. On the other hand, incumbent Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal denied that the party leadership was not satisfied with the people’s response.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Iqbal claimed that the situation was contrary to the reports being aired by some TV channels known for their opposition to the PML-N, and said the former prime minister had in fact “praised” the local leadership of Rawalpindi for their work.

Mr Iqbal also denied that they had intentionally adopted a “go-slow” policy, saying that the convoy was unable to move because the people had started walking in front of Mr Sharif’s vehicle, forcing the whole convoy to move with pedestrian speed. He said that they had attempted several times to remove people from in front of the vehicle, but they failed to do so.

Mr Iqbal said Rawalpindi was not included in the plan as a night stopover, but they had to change the plan as they could not get on GT Road as per schedule due to the large crowd that had gathered in the twin cities to welcome their leader.

When asked about the low attendance on Thursday morning, Mr Iqbal said the Pindi show was over on Wednesday night with the address of Mr Sharif. He said the PML-N rally should not be compared with the long marches and the reception which Benazir Bhutto had received in 1986 upon her return to the country after ending exile.

The minister said Mr Sharif was going back home and on his way he would meet the people to thank them for their support to the party.

Denying differences within the party, Mr Iqbal said that in fact the Supreme Court decision had united the party which had come out as more cohesively.

“The party which had been in a dormant mood for four years has all of a sudden become energised and all the ranks and files have been galvanised,” he added. He also denied that Chaudhry Nisar had not been part of the rally due to differences. “He is very much with the party.”

Mr Iqbal expressed the hope that Mr Sharif would reach Lahore on Saturday after staying in Jhelum and Gujranwala on Thursday and Friday nights, respectively.