ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan is asking Premier Nawaz Sharif to offer himself up for accountability over Panamagate or step down. Sharif, however, is unlikely to succumb to either of the two demands. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is confident to weather the gathering political storm with ease. The chutzpah stems from the fact that no other major opposition party is siding with Imran.
Of late, reports were making the rounds that the ruling party might consider an in-house change to defuse the ballooning controversy triggered by the Panama leaks. Sources, however, say there is not even a remote possibility of Premier Sharif stepping down. And they cite more than one reason.
“They [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] staged a marathon dharna in 2014 but failed to bring the government on its knees,” a central leader of the PML-N said. “If we did not budge back then when the pressure was immense and the situation was grave, why would we go for an in-house change now,” he told The Express Tribune while requesting anonymity.
However, he went on to add that everything would depend on PTI’s November 2 show. “Things might change if Imran manages to pull large crowds – but we don’t see that happening,” he added. “They [PTI] are also feeling the heat of their panic-driven policies and flawed strategies.”
Nonetheless, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi is confident the government would not be able to survive the upcoming dharna. “Let’s see who will be at the receiving end when a sea of people overwhelms the capital,” he told The Express Tribune. “Do you think a crowd of over a million PTI supporters will return home empty-handed? In-house change is the writing on the wall and it’s high time the PML-N read it – the sooner the better.”
However, PML-N Chairman and leader of the house in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq doesn’t see any reason for an in-house change. “Why should Mian sahib resign when he is not even named in the Panama Papers? It’s wishful thinking of the opposition. The PML-N is united under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif,” Haq told The Express Tribune.
Let us suppose if Nawaz resigns for an independent inquiry, who can step into his shoes. The PML-N has few choices. “Members of Nawaz’s kitchen cabinet do not get along well. To argue that one of them could be the premier is too speculative to think,” said a PML-N leader, who enjoys close association with Nawaz. He recalled that in May when Nawaz travelled to London for an open heart surgery leaving it to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to look after the government matters, that didn’t go down well with other powerful ministers.
Shahbaz Sharif could be a possible choice. But for him to replace the elder Sharif, he would have to relinquish his Punjab Assembly seat and contest and win a National Assembly constituency which seems a far-fetched notion.
The recent intraparty polls of the PML-N were meant to heal any internal rifts and lend ‘unequivocal support’ to the elder Sharif ahead of PTI’s dharna. “When the entire party is throwing its weight behind Sharif, there is a loud and clear message: in-house change is out of question,” said a source.
Insiders believe the sacking of Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid was a ‘timely’ move by the ruling party to settle issues with the security establishment ahead of the dharna. “It was necessary to settle issues beforehand; otherwise, uncertainty would have prevailed and the talk of in-house change would have to be taken seriously,” said one insider.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2016.