While the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) squares up for a faceoff with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on August 14, it appears there are rifts within the party over the proposed 30-day Independence Day celebrations announced by the government.
Sources say the month-long celebrations strikes a discordant note with the government’s pledge of austerity, as well as the plight of those displaced from North Waziristan.
Well-placed sources in the PML-N told The Express Tribune that Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique has requested Nawaz Sharif to mobilise party workers through such celebrations in order to counter PTI’s August 14 Azadi March. Rafique is said to be close to Khawaja Asif, the defence minister who, along with likeminded MPs of the party, convinced Nawaz to adopt this strategy in order to counter the PTI in Punjab.
Sources said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reminded both Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz that Rafique’s proposal to counter the PTI had impinged on the party’s popularity and solidarity. In October 2011, Rafique and other likeminded party leaders suggested the PML-N organise a public rally in Lahore and hold a public gathering at Bhati Gate two days before PTI’s public gathering for October 30.
At the time, Rafique could not mobilise support for a party gathering and put the party in an embarrassing position, while raising concerns over its dwindling popularity in Lahore.
Nisar reminded Shahbaz that the party took one-and-a-half year to ‘recover’ from this setback. Sources claim that Nisar suggested the 30-day celebrations reflect a similar strategy against the PTI that had backfired in October 2011.
According to sources, MPs led by Chaudhry opposed the party’s plans. They have persuaded Shahbaz Sharif that Independence Day celebrations contradict the party’s current stance on internally displaced persons (IDPs). Moreover, the elaborate celebration plans are at variance with the party’s objectives of austerity and recognition of solidarity with the Pakistan Army in Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Sources claimed that the decision to hold celebrations can be perceived as ignorant of the plight of the IDPs and will highlight the ruling party’s attempts to obtain power in the centre. They added that the overall costs of celebrations must be revealed to the public. Moreover, they said that if the party wants to avoid further embarrassment it should divert funds towards the IDPs.
Nisar and his likeminded MPs asked Shahbaz to uphold the party’s manifesto and conduct the August 14 day celebrations with simplicity, sources revealed. He also complained to Shahbaz that the party’s leadership had not arranged any iftar dinners or opened their fast in IDPs camps to show solidarity with the displaced people, they said.
Sources revealed that Nisar along with Shahbaz and Hamza will urge Nawaz Sharif to reconsider the party’s decision for a 30-days celebration and develop an alternative proposal.
They will ask Nawaz Sharif to celebrate August 14 with the IDPs at five different camps in Fata. Nawaz will visit the IDP camp in Bannu, while Shahbaz will go to Fata and Hamza and three other senior leaders will visit other IDP camps.
Change of plans
Punjab Labour Minister Raja Ashfaq Sarwar said that all leaders within the party are on the same page on how to celebrate Independence Day. He claimed that the party leadership held their last meeting at Model Town where they chalked out a 30-day celebration plan.
“If Nawaz Sharif decides to reverse the plans, it would need to be announced before August 1,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2014.
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