PML-N doves attempt backchannel talks

Published: May 17, 2018


ISLAMABAD: Pressure is mounting on the leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), from within its own ranks, to restrain from anti-establishment posture in order to get a level playing field for the party in the next elections.

While deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif has intensified his public rhetoric, a powerful group in the ruling party is trying to open backchannel contacts with the powers that be to get a level playing field in the upcoming general elections.

Sources in the ruling PML-N told The Express Tribune that an overwhelming majority in the party feels that Sharif’s current policy of confrontation would be deleterious.

More and more in the ruling camp, including ministers, are joining the voices that oppose confrontational politics.

“We are marking efforts for reconciliation [between Sharifs and the powers that be]… at least we should be getting level playing field [in the upcoming elections]”, a cabinet member said.

To achieve that the party leadership would have to show constraint and avoid confrontation, he added.

Already going through wear and tear, the ruling PML-N is facing defections in bulk during the past few weeks.

The process of defections further intensified since last Saturday’s interview of Nawaz Sharif with an English daily in which he questioned the role of non-state actors.

The Indian media perceived his comments on the Mumbai terrorist attacks as an admission of Pakistan’s involvement coming from a person who had been prime minister of the country thrice.

While many sitting members of the National and provincial assembly have already left the party, some others are sitting on the fence, ready to jump the ship if the party continued to pursue the policy of confronting state institutions.

Two sitting PML-N MNAs from Punjab –n Ghulam Bibi Bharwana and Sahibzada Muhammad Nazir Sultan — along with half a dozen former members of the Punjab Assembly joined the PTI on Thursday.

The ruling party had an unusual huddle of its parliamentary party in the Parliament House earlier in the morning.

Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who was recently elected president of the party after the Supreme Court disqualified his elder bother from holding the party office, chaired the meeting.

Younger Sharif is considered a moderate voice within the party when it comes to having working relations with other important institutions.

Some media reports claimed that he and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Wednesday made yet another aborted attempt to convince Sharif to soften his stance.

Some media reports also claimed that during Thursday’s parliamentary party’s huddle, party lawmakers expressed their serious reservations over the confrontational politics of elder Sharif and requested him to intervene to save the party.

Some senior leaders have already disassociated themselves from the policy being pursued by the hawkish group led by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam.

Chaudhry Nisar, once considered among the core group of the Sharifs, has been publically critical of their stance being tagged in media as “party narrative”.

Nisar was in parliament but abstained from taking part in the parliamentary party meeting, even when it was being chaired by Shehbaz — and not Nawaz.

“Among the remaining top leaders, including some key cabinet members, the majority does not support this narrative,” a lawmaker remarked.

“Don’t you see that we are struggling to pass the Finance Bill. This in a way is no confidence on the party’s politics, though we have no issues with Prime Minister Abbasi,” he added.

After Nisar’s current disassociation from the party’s affairs, another strong group within the party is now working on two fronts — trying to assuage the party’s top leadership on the one hand, and trying to open backdoor channels for a possible reconciliation, at least to get some level playing field in the polls, on the other.

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