ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif may not be at the helm of the country’s affairs anymore but whatever he says or does tends to create ripples in Pakistan’s politics.
His lately found political animosity with state institutions has been making headlines. From unsparingly criticising the judiciary for handing him an outright disqualification in Panamagate case to smelling a rat in the motives of the security establishment, Sharif has been vocal in sharing his concerns, including foreseeing conspiracies against the very existence of Pakistan’s democratic order.
For now, it has become apparent that the ex-premier is not willing to change his approach and he has rolled up his sleeves to continue striding the collision course.
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The former PM is back in Pakistan and this time around, his plans appear obvious— more than ever; to target the judiciary after Supreme Court’s verdict regarding PTI leaders Imran Khan and Jehangir Tareen.
For many, Sharif’s arrival in the country has much to do with a favourable scenario emerging after the apex court’s judgment. “It’s a win-win situation for us,” says a PML-N bigwig. “Had Imran Khan been sent packing by the court, there wouldn’t have been anything better than that. He has not been disqualified, which means we have a lot to cash in on—to keep criticising the ‘discriminatory accountability’. Either way, things are going our way. ”
Expectedly, Sharif would be harping on anti-judiciary mantra to question the rationale behind not sending Khan packing. PML-N has already been terming Tareen’s disqualification a ‘balancing act’. As the word has it, the PML-N supremo intends to hold political gatherings in various parts of the country to mobilise his vote bank and attract public sympathy by likening his disqualification to lopsided accountability.
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The insider says that Sharif’s return to Islamabad after spending a few days in London implies that he is not willing to give political space to his rivals—Khan in particular. “The message has been clear. Sharif means business.”
However, another leader, who belongs to a dissident group in the N-League, disagrees. “What other option Mian sahib has in hand than to act in defiance?” he asks. “If he starts behaving in compliance (with state institutions) instead of defiance, he would be politically annihilated. This aggression is all about his political survival. He has been heading to a blind alley and he is desperate to fight it out.”
The politician says that the closure of the Hudabiya Paper Mills case amid reports of an imminent split in the ruling camp with several legislators said to be waiting for the right opportunity to part ways with the party has sent shockwaves in the rank and file, which necessitated Sharif’s immediate return home.
“On the face of it, the top court’s decision regarding Hudabiya Paper Mills is a welcome move for PML-N. But it’s not. For Mian sahib and his cronies, Shehbaz Sharif is gaining strength at the cost of weakening the ex-PM and this is simply a nightmare.”
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A few weeks back, when the Supreme Court announced reopening the Hudabiya case, ice somewhat melted between the Sharif brothers who decided to face the cases with unity and cooperation. “But this might change given that there’s a deep-rooted feeling in the Nawaz camp that the powers that be are ‘patronising’ the Punjab CM to dent Mian sahib, which, as the Nawaz group sees it, gives credence to reports of the emergence of a Shehbaz League out of Nawaz League.”
Also, Sharif’s close aides who would call the shots when he was the premier enjoy no more past-like privileges under Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, according to an insider. They include leaders like Ameer Muqam, Asif Kirmani, Pervaiz Rashid and Khawaja Asif. In this context, the former PM’s presence in Pakistan also aims at consolidating his control on the party.
However, Muqam denies being sidelined. “I was an adviser in the cabinet of Mian sahib and now I am adviser in the cabinet of PM Abbasi. At personal level, for me, nothing has changed.”
On Sharif’s political future, he sounds more than optimistic. “The good old days are not over. They will return. No party decision can be taken without Mian sahib’s approval. As former PM, he gives guidance to the government functionaries about the matters of governance. He cannot be rendered irrelevant and any such move is bound to fail.”
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