Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is in the news once again. But this time around, he is not holding forth on talks with the Taliban or security details.
He is reportedly not happy with the Sharif leadership. This is an account that has been lent credence by the Chaudhry’s prolonged absence from the television channels on the night the Karachi airport was attacked.
Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah was the first one to ‘break’ this story on the floor of the house during his assault on the government during his budget/airport speech.
Shah said that during the night of the attack on the airport, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could not trace his interior minister till the next morning. Although, Mr Shah moved on to continue his sleep-inducing attack on the government, those listening to him latched on to his remark.
Many pointed out that Mr Khan, who till recently had been a regular attendant of the parliament, had been missing in action.
In fact, Mr Khan had not turned up on the day the budget was presented in the National Assembly.
Since then, the prime minister came to the house twice but Mr Khan was missing each time; earlier, he was always there, by Nawaz Sharif’s side as the latter walked in.
In fact, on Thursday, the prime minister turned up in the parliament for the third time but the interior minister did not accompany him. He walked in later.
Can this be called a coincidence?
Not everyone is willing to believe this. Some argue that the absence was deliberate and designed to send a message.
Sources in the ruling party, too, agree.
Talking to Dawn, one of the two PML-N leaders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explained how the senior Sharif’s cagey way of working had put off many of the party’s key leaders including Chaudhry Nisar.
This discontentment has ripened with the budget session as the senior leadership had not been provided any information beforehand of the budget.
No one, it seems, can poke his or her nose into Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s affairs.
If a party leader is to be believed, Chaudhry Nisar and many others within the party are not happy that Dar had not sought their suggestions or shared any information with them about the 2014-15 budget.
The secrecy over the budget has come as the proverbial final straw.
A second party leader asserts that the interior minister was also not happy with the prime minister’s handling of the tussle between Geo, the media house, and the military establishment.
When asked for details, the leader added that Chaudhry Nisar had expressed his concern over how the advice of an unelected adviser and a federal minister had pushed the government into a corner in the Geo-ISI controversy.
Apparently, Khan went so far as to say that the issue was allowed to linger on, making the government look indecisive.
These concerns had been voiced in front of a few party members.
And this is why, Khan, has in recent weeks, restricted his interaction with the media and discontinued his Sunday press conferences which he was quite fond of holding. His last Sunday-specific press conference was held during second week of April.
Earlier, the prime minister had adopted a similar cards-close-to-his-chest approach over national security issues, which too had not gone down well with people such as Khan.
Before deciding on the talks option, the prime minister held a meeting with the PML-N members. During the meeting, the prime minister did not share his own views though he heard everyone out patiently.
As a result, the prime minister took everyone by surprise when on January 29 he announced a four-member committee to hold talks with the TTP. At a press conference held later, Chaudhry Nisar accepted how the prime minister changed his speech at the eleventh hour, which originally had been written to announce an operation against the TTP.
He said: “The government is genuinely interested in peace efforts, otherwise, the prime minister will have announced military operation instead of formation of a four-member committee for talks with the Taliban.”
This is not to say that Khan is the only one who has reservations over the manner in which Sharif is operating. Others too hold similar opinions.
As one PML-N loyalist put it: “Talk to any party lawmaker and it turns out that they aren’t happy with the party leadership. The lack of liaison between the party leadership and legislators is a common complaint.”
Such concerns are now old news but the Chaudhry’s displeasure and the manner in which it has been made public is new.
Whether or not, his unhappiness will provoke the elder Sharif into action remains to be seen as the prime minister has so far ignored all the murmurs within the party. This promises to be the summer of discontent for not just the Chaudhry but the entire PML-N.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2014