LAHORE: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met with Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif during a whirlwind trip to the Punjab capital on Tuesday night as calls for a leadership change in the ruling PML-N rise to a crescendo.
The meeting at the chief minister’s Model Town residence lasted for around 90 minutes. Rumour has it that some PML-N leaders also joined the pair towards the end of the meeting, though Shehbaz’s office strongly denied it.
Sources say Premier Abbasi and Shehbaz discussed the prevailing political situation in the country. Moreover, internal party issues also came up for discussion, especially the demand for deposed premier Nawaz Sharif to step aside and make way for Shehbaz at the party’s helm.
A member of Premier Abbasi’s cabinet – Riaz Pirzada – to be specific, has advised Sharif, not once but twice, to hand over the party’s reins to his younger brother to “preclude chaos” in the ruling party. Several politicians in the PML-N’s powerful Punjab chapter are said to have started closed-door meetings in support of Shehbaz.
According to media reports, differences have cropped up in the House of Sharif in the wake of the hardline stance the elder brother has taken following his ouster from the Prime Minister House in light of the Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Papers case.
Sharif has been openly criticising the judiciary for his unceremonious ouster, while his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, has been alluding to the security establishment’s role in her father’s fall, creating an impression that the Sharif family was on a warpath with the state institutions.
Shehbaz, on the other hand, has been advising caution, a stance he reiterated in Tuesday’s meeting. His son said in a recent media talk that he and his father would advise Nawaz to avoid the policy of confrontation with state institutions.
The Abbasi-Shehbaz meeting came a day after Maryam dismissed as baseless media reports that all is not well in the House of the Sharif. She said Hamza Shehbaz, her cousin, is her brother and that rumour-mongers would be left red-faced.
Nawaz Sharif, who recently spent most of his time in London where his ailing wife Kulsoom Nawaz is being treated for cancer, is expected to soon return to Pakistan to appear before an accountability court in a graft case.
Immediately after the meeting with Shehbaz, Premier Abbasi left for Islamabad to meet US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.