LAHORE: Javed Hashmi, one of the stalwarts of Multani politics and the most visible Seraiki member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, was deciding late on Friday night whether to jump ship and join the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf bandwagon, sources told The Express Tribune.
Even though he has recently been sidelined by the PML-N leadership, Hashmi’s possible departure would come as a major blow to the PML-N, which has been struggling in South Punjab and would need Hashmi’s support in the region. Hashmi’s defection would also likely cost the party 12 members of the National Assembly and at least eight members of the Punjab Assembly, claimed sources close to the PTI.
On Friday night, the PML-N leadership was frantically trying to convince Hashmi to withdraw his decision to switch sides. Sources, however, said he is unlikely to be persuaded. “Although Hashmi’s negotiation with senior leaders of PML-N is ongoing, he will inform PTI chief Imran Khan of his final decision soon,” said a source close to Imran Khan in Karachi. He added that all negotiations between the PTI and Hashmi were conducted by Imran personally.
Imran, speaking to Express News in Karachi said that “you will hear good news tomorrow.”
It is believed that Hashmi gave his party an ultimatum: if his son-in-law Zahid Bihar Hashmi was not given a party ticket, he himself would join PTI. Hashmi could now fly to Karachi on Saturday (today), meet Imran Khan and address the PTI’s rally on Sunday.
It appears that the PTI chief wants to ensure that Hashmi and other defectors from the PML-N join him at the planned rally in front of Quaid-e-Azam’s Mausoleum in Karachi on December 25.
The PML-N seems more concerned about the bloc of Hashmi loyalists in the party leaving. Sources close to the party said that when PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif learnt of Hashmi’s intentions, he started contacting Hashmi’s supporters, asking them to stay in the PML-N, even if Hashmi joins the PTI.
Among those also considering joining PTI were Khawaja Saad Rafique (MNA, Lahore), his younger brother Khawaja Salmaan Rafique (MPA, Lahore) and former MPA Jaffar Iqbal Gujjar from Rahimyar Khan.
The PML-N went all out. Sources say that a team of PML-N leaders comprising leader Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Tehmina Doultana, Pervez Malik and Zaeem Qadri negotiated with Hashmi at the residence of Khawaja Muhammad Saad Rafique in Lahore’s upscale DHA neighbourhood.
Apparently party president Nawaz Sharif sent a high-powered delegation to Rafique’s residence, where after around four hours of negotiation they succeeded in dissuading Rafique from joining PTI.
Late on Friday night, Ahsan Iqbal, told media after an hour long meeting concluded at Saad Rafique’s house, that “he [Hashmi] is a big asset for the party, and that we will not allow any big news to be created.”
Hashmi is a remarkably popular figure, winning three National Assembly seats in 2008 – from Rawalpindi, Lahore and Multan. He eventually vacated two of those and kept NA-149, representing his native Multan. He could be the second Multani politician to join the PTI, the first being Shah Mehmood Qureshi, former foreign minister and Hashmi’s hometown political rival.
The news of PTI defections could extend further over the weekend. Credible sources in PTI told The Express Tribune that MQM H leader Afaq Ahmad and PPP’ MNA Nabeel Gabol are likely to join PTI on December 25.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2011.