Just days after being released from the jail on bail, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif seems to have taken charge of the party and the first direction that he has issued is to lower the rhetoric and pursue the policy of reconciliation.
Party insiders say that the PML-N president, who is the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, believes that the party should quietly move ahead; refrain from issuing unnecessary statements and position itself as an “acceptable alternative” for the next general elections in 2023.
“At the moment, the PML-N is popular but not acceptable,” a PML-N leader said, while requesting not to be named. “Shehbaz has asked the party leadership to prepare the party for the next general elections instead of locking horns with establishment by issuing unnecessary statements.”
Commenting on Shehbaz’s meetings with the Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong and British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner in Islamabad the other day, the lawmaker said that “both the meetings were successful and the diplomats lauded Shehbaz’s hard work”.
“It’s basically recognition of his [Shehbaz’s] impressive work and reasonable approach from both the East and the West,” the lawmaker said. During the meetings, the party leader said, the Chinese ambassador said that he already knew about Shehbaz because of his fame in China.
The British envoy also complimented Shehbaz by saying that “I know, you are the one who delivers”. Without revealing much, the PML-N leader said that the pace of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects during the incumbent and previous government was also discussed during the meetings.
Political temperature has remained high since the opposition’s All Parties Conference in September last year where the three times former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Imran Khan by terming him a “selected PM” and calling out the people who allegedly brought him in power. Since then, the PML-N increased its attacks on the government.
Shehbaz, however, has quickly taken the charge after being released on bail. He became active on Twitter, started meetings with dignitaries, visited party leaders and delegations at his residence and contacted Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to fix a meeting with him after Eid.
PML-N leaders said that Shehbaz not only believes in the policy of reconciliation and engagement but his recent activities reflect his determination to set a moderate tone for the coming days instead of pursuing a policy of confrontation.
Responding to a question whether the party has decided to abandon its narrative developed in the recent past, another PML-N leader said that the party expects that the establishment would stay neutral and that is how both sides can find “a middle path”.
While explaining his point and highlighting the losing streak of the ruling party in the recently-held by-polls, he said that the narrative-based vote is limited and one can’t rely on it forever, adding that the PML-N is getting votes in the by-elections for its performance in the past.
Since the PDM is inactive and lost its steam, he said, the right choice for the PML-N is to take the reconciliatory route and try to avoid adopting an extreme approach.
When asked at to how the PML-N’s approach was different from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) whom the PML-N has accused to making a deal with the establishment, the lawmaker said that PPP is already part of the system but the PML-N is out at the moment. “It needs to make a comeback in the 2023 elections.”