Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cohorts in the PML-N have been at pains to project a “progressive” image of their party ever since it gained power for the third time in 2013. But his son-in-law, Capt. (retired) Mohammad Safdar, appears to some as if trying to revive the party’s old right wing legacy.

People say the speeches that Mr Safdar recently made in the National Assembly were so heavily laced with references to Islamic history and jurisprudence they could well have come from lawmakers of the JUI-F, the religious party that has considerable following in the Mansehra constituency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which the PML-N MNA Safdar represents. Ordinarily, he would not have been taken seriously because he doesn’t hold an office in the ruling PML-N, but then his close family relationships to the party’s boss grants him quite a sway over the party men.

In the current and last sessions of the National Assembly, Mr Safdar was at the forefront of getting the rules of procedure and conduct of the business of the house amended. The amendment made Naats – hymns praising Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – mandatory following the recitation of Quran at the outset of daily proceedings of the house.

And basking in the praise that the move earned him from both sides of the aisle as a true believer, Mr Safdar this week strongly supported a resolution moved by Jamaat-e-Islami MNA Tariq Ullah for switching the weekly off day from Sunday to Friday, the Sabbath day for Muslims. Had senior ministers Khawaja Asif and Khawaja Saad Rafique not intervened, Mr Safdar appeared to have almost convinced the Speaker of the National Assembly to put the proposal to vote, with strong possibility being carried.

His party colleagues and officials had interesting nuggets of information to offer when inquired about MNA Safdar’s newly-acquired role.

For one of the senior PML-N lawmakers hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Captain Safdar’s recent active role in the National Assembly was meant “just to remain in the news.”

“Since Mr Safdar has nothing significant on his watch in the government of his father-in-law, he is just trying to be relevant and make his presence felt one way or the other,” said the lawmaker.

Moreover, he said, by his initiatives of making recitations of Naat mandatory, Mr Safdar pandered to his constituents back home. Another PML-N leader, who knows Mr Safdar well, asked “how many people know that MNA Safdar is chairman of the standing committee of the National Assembly on information technology and telecommunication” and answered the question himself.

“For the past many months, his committee is stuck with the Cybercrime Bill because the government wants it passed without addressing the apprehensions of the opposition parties. In the committee, Mr Safdar only follows the instructions from the party high command,” he said.

But come next elections, he will, for sure, be found flaunting his role in making recitation of Naat mandatory, the PML-N leader said.

Perhaps, the most interesting piece of information was shared by a senior official of the National High Authority (NHA).

There is no designated minister for the communication division. Like many other ministries, the portfolio is held by the prime minister but in practice the huge NHA is run by Mr Safdar, according to the official.

“Mr Safdar is supposedly the one who calls the shots in the communication division. At least his close ties with the incumbent NHA chairman Shahid Ashraf Tarar are an open secret in the organization and he is regularly seen in the NHA,” he said.

By way of explanation, the official said Mr Safdar plays an important role in the distribution of development funds among the legislators of the ruling party, the major chunk of which is spent on construction of roads, so he is in touch with the NHA.

Naturally, being the prime minister’s son in law, Mr Safdar enjoys a special position within the party. Though, his reputedly hot-headed disposition at times landed him in direct confrontation with senior party members.

So much so that his party membership was suspended when, in the summer of 2012, he was blamed for creating serious rifts within the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter of PML-N on the complaints of sitting KP governor Mehtab Abbasi and party president Pir Sabir Shah.

Only recently, he was served a show cause notice by the party leadership for abstaining from voting in the election of Speaker of the National Assembly. “No doubt people respect him as a relation of the prime minister, otherwise, he is not much liked within the higher echelons of the party,” commented a senior party office bearer, who didn’t want to comment on the record.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2016