ISLAMABAD: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif is not in a mood to mend fences with state institutions and seems to have made up his mind to stride the collision course with anyone not willing to see him at the helm.
In what comes out as the gist of crucial conclaves the bigwigs of the ruling party had in London on Monday, Sharif has rolled up his sleeves to fight with all those pressing him to go backstage – be it the members of his own party, judiciary, or the security establishment.
Sharif handed an outright rejection to the advice of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif against locking horns with state institutions, according to knowledgeable quarters in the ruling camp.
“He was advised consultation instead of confrontation,” said a party stalwart with knowledge of what transpired during the huddle in the British capital.
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He was advised “to consult his loyalists instead of relying on new advisers who have ended up bringing him face to face with state institutions and created resentment within the party”, the source said, summing up the stance of Shehbaz and Abbasi.
Shehbaz, in particular, is said to have minced no words in assuring his elder brother that he always stood by his side and would continue to do so but the way loyalists were marginalised in the party at the expense of promoting the ‘paratroopers’ was costing the PML-N dearly.
The former premier was urged by his younger brother that he needed to differentiate between those who sacrificed for the party in the past to keep it intact and those who brought the party to the point where it is today – on the verge of getting plunged into isolation.
Reportedly, Sharif sounded unhappy, mentioning that senior cabinet members and party leaders were openly criticising his policies and putting their weight behind Shehbaz.
Recently, Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Pirzada publically stated more than once that Shehbaz should take over the party given that the former premier was facing serious cases ordered by the Supreme Court in the Panamagate case.
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Moreover, former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Monday urged his party leadership to “shun the state of confusion and focus on the larger interest of the country and the party, instead of individuals”.
Both leaders are said to be enjoying cordial relations with the Punjab chief minister, and the elder Sharif believes that their recent statements arrived with the silent approval of the younger Sharif.
However, Shehbaz reportedly assured his elder brother that he did not have any plans to corner him or create his own party faction – an obvious reference to the much-discussed possibility of emergence of a ‘Shehbaz League’ out of the ‘Nawaz League’.
Sharif, the sources said, then announced his plan to arrive in Pakistan on November 2 and appear before the accountability court the following day – something that caught the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister by surprise since the schedule was not shared with them beforehand.
“The federal and Punjab government functionaries have no problem with Sharif coming to Pakistan, but his anti-judiciary and anti-establishment rhetoric would be problematic for everyone,” a party bigwig said.
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Later, after the meetings in London, the party leaders appeared before the media and tried to give the impression that all went well during the meeting: that the ‘minus Nawaz’ formula was not acceptable and the entire PML-N regarded only Sharif as its leader.
However, Shehbaz did not shy away from speaking up his mind before the media and said that courts would be respected and completely complied with.
According to insiders, Sharif wants a ‘warm’ welcome by party members on landing in Pakistan on November 2 to convey the message across that he is still the ‘most popular’ political leader in Pakistan – something the party leadership is hesitant to do, fearing that a public reception given to Sharif on his arrival might lead the former prime minister into an emotional outburst to target state institutions.
“He [Sharif] may have his own reasons to target the state institutions but this is not affordable given the mess we are in and the multifaceted challenges,” said one of the close aides of PM Abbasi, wishing to be kept unnamed.
PML-N Chairman and Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq said the meetings in London were held in a ‘cordial’ atmosphere.
“Whatever was decided in the meetings was shared with the media. There is only one leader in the PML-N – Nawaz Sharif – and all members of the party accept it. Rest are just rumours, a figment of imagination of certain circles,” he told The Express Tribune.