With the elections closing in, not all is well in camp Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), if some insiders are to be believed.
The forced resignation of Punjab Finance Minister Rana Asif is being viewed by party insiders as one more manifestation of brewing differences between Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif.
Said to have been inducted in the Cabinet on the instructions of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, Rana has been shown the door, as rumour has it, by the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
Ostensibly vying with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for the vote bank of extreme religious right (ERR), which is said to be sizeable in Punjab, the PML-N faction led by Shahbaz is believed to have felt obliged to fire Rana, a minority member, in hope that this gesture on the part of the party would tip the balance in its favor vis-à-vis the ERR.
The sources said that PML-N is clearly divided into two groups: one led by MNA Khawaja Muhammad Asif who gets his inspiration from Nawaz while the other is led by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who is said to get his instructions from Shahbaz.
The events that led to the finance minister’s eventual forced resignation began unfolding with rumours that Asif is a Muslim by birth and is pretending to be a Christian simply to bag a minority MPA seat. He is also said to have dual nationality.
According to sources, Nawaz Sharif took notice of Asif’s predicament and asked Advocate General (AG) Ashter Ausaf to help him resolve the dual national problem, so any controversy could be avoided. Asif along with the AG visited the Canadian Embassy on June 5 to get his certificate of renunciation – but they were informed that the process will take some time.
On June 5, the AG, in a report to the high-ups of the party, said that Asif’s case could easily be put on hold till expiry of the current tenure of Punjab Assembly. But Shahbaz ignored the report and called a meeting of the AG, Secretary Coordination Dr Touqeer Shah and Rana Sanaullah. When their meeting ended, they informed Asif that the party may face trouble if he remains a minister and that the chief minister could not afford such a situation, with elections around the corner.
Asif, whose appointment was recommended by Khawaja Asif, approached the MNA and both conveyed the situation to Nawaz, who was in Dubai.
According to sources, Nawaz asked the Punjab government to wait till his return before any decision is taken on the matter.
However, a night before Nawaz arrived, Shahbaz got Asif to resign and even asked him to leave the city for the time being.
Nawaz returned on Friday morning – only to be told that Asif had resigned the night before.
Asif, while talking with The Express Tribune, said that it was unfortunate that some elements from his party had hatched a conspiracy against him and put his life at stake. Saying he feared assassination, he added that he had been portrayed as an infidel which is regrettable for the whole community.
Sanaullah said that Asif’s portfolio has been withdrawn as he possesses dual nationality. He said that the Supreme Court is going to hear a case on the matter on June 13 while the Punjab government will present its budget on June 9 – and if the apex court gives an order against Asif, the Punjab government would definitely face embarrassment.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2012.