The Sharif divide


    How deep are the differences?



    Ever since Nawaz Sharif was ousted as the prime minister of Pakistan following the 28 July Supreme Court verdict, the Sharif family has been in the crosshairs. There has been chatter of rifts in the family as well as the party leadership.

    At first, it was the question of who to nominate as the interim prime minister. Although younger brother Shahbaz Sharif was being considered for the position, but since his ‘services’ were more required in Punjab, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was given the office of prime minister. Then it was the NA-120 seat that fell vacant following the ouster. Sharifs took their time and after much considerations and deliberation, Kulsoom Nawaz, the wife of elder Sharif, was nominated by the party to contest the by-election. Kulsoom was later diagnosed with lymphoma and right now, the entire family is busy with her treatment in London. Kulsoom was absent and so were the Sharifs, so Maryam Nawaz was put forward for face saving and to head the by-election campaign.

    It appears Nawaz has given the party’s reins to Maryam, ignoring Hamza Shahbaz and Shahbaz Sharif himself, bringing discontent to some in the family and party circle. The cleavage between the two Sharifs and their children appears to be no more a secret as the absence of Shahbaz and his son Hamza from the scene has further brought the power tussle into the open.

    Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry while talking to DNA about this family rift said, “The children of Shahbaz and Nawaz are against each other. They don’t even like to even look at each other. Hamza has been looking after the by-elections in Punjab for the last four years but the Sharif divide became evident in the NA-120 election as he left the country.”

    Talking about this divide, political analyst Mazhar Abbas said, “There are always some differences within families but I don’t think Shahbaz, if he even has some reservations, would ever go against Nawaz. Shahbaz would like to become the prime minister for a longer term, not just for a year. Many people were of the view that Shahbaz should look after Punjab as chief minister till next elections.”

    At this, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Maiza Hameed commented, “When the sons give money to their father, it is a problem. If sons or the father go to London for their mother’s ailment, it becomes an issue and if daughter stays here and runs the campaign, she is not admired. That’s why I believe these rumours are totally baseless.”

    “I have been closely working on the NA-120 campaign. According to my observation, the entire family is united. Both brothers are busy in Kulsoom’s treatment. Unfortunately, there are some anchors in Pakistan who sell such stories. If you look at the conversations and public statements of the two leaders, they have vehemently denied such accusations,” Hameed added.

    Nawaz is now facing a real tough time. His review petition has been rejected by the Supreme Court and a NAB trial awaits him on his return from London. Maryam, on the other hand, left no stone unturned to go against the judiciary and play the victim card during her campaign. This constant confrontation with judiciary and the army will not do the party any good either.

    “Shahbaz thinks Nawaz is the root of all problems and is of the opinion that a safe solution should be considered without confronting the institutions. Shahbaz never commented on the army or the judiciary. It is the narrative of our enemy (Modi) that Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership is not on the same page and Maryam only spoke Modi’s language,” said the PTI leader.

    Meanwhile, the deepening split within the House of Sharif and party ranks is also worrying. Former interior minister Ch Nisar and current Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif have their own differences. Nisar even came out to criticise Maryam saying she should only be considered as the daughter of Nawaz Sharif and not as a leader.

    “It was a very brave and difficult effort on the part of Maryam to spearhead the by-election campaign in such a critical situation,” the PML-N MNA said. On Ch Nisar’s criticism of Maryam, she said Maryam gave him a nice reply saying that Nisar is her uncle – if he feels like this, he might be right as per his experience.

    “It was only because of the circumstances that Maryam had to step forward and head the campaign,” she added.  

    Speaking about this, analyst Abbas said, “Nawaz would definitely want Maryam to step ahead but Maryam herself faces some cases and inquiries. Also, her capacity to contest and win the elections is less than Shahbaz. In that scenario, the automatic choice for Nawaz is to nominate Shahbaz.”

    Whether or not there is a split between the Sharif brothers, it is high time for the PML-N leadership to realise the severity of the troubles the party is facing. The PTI is all set to give a tough competition to the ruling PML-N in the next general elections as it did in the NA-120 by-election while the sword of corruption cases is already hanging over Sharifs’ heads.

    Chaudhry said PTI had no concern with the Sharif family rift, and only watched the national interest but the Sharifs have been excluded from politics because of crimes like money laundering, embezzlement, record tampering and forgery. The cases of Hudaibiya Paper Mills and Model Town incident have also opened.

    “They would either flee Pakistan or would be in jails. The Sharifs are no more,” he said.

    “There is a dispute and some differences within the party. The groupings are sharp and visible now. If they are not resolved, it would definitely harm PML-N in the next elections,” analyst Abbas said and added, “Nawaz would have to take a clear position about Shahbaz before the general elections, in case he and Maryam are disqualified and get punished in NAB references. The worst case scenario for Sharifs would be if a reference is filed against Shahbaz too. If these three players are disqualified, then a comeback for Sharif family looks tough.”

    On the other hand, the PML-N MNA said, “Based on their experience, the family realises that they have to fight this battle by sticking together. They have always been together for the sake of this country, democracy and the people.”

    Taking turns, the Sharifs’ lust for power is never going to end and for the Sharif kingdom to thrive, they need to wind up all the differences and do some actual point scoring to bag votes in the next elections. The die-hard PML-N supporters are not much in numbers now and such a divide is not going to do the party any good.