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LAHORE: Notwithstanding the fact that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s last-ditch efforts to stop Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan from going public with his reservations proved futile, the PML-N is optimistic the interior minister will not go against the party interests come what may.

Some within the party, however, see it as hope against hope after the interior minister’s outburst.

“Chaudhry Nisar and the Sharifs have enjoyed great relations in the last 30 years. If there have been some issues for the last two months or so, they will be settled soon. Being a loyal leader of the party, he will not say goodbye to it and keep the party interests supreme during testing times,” said Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah.

Speaking to Dawn on Thursday, Sanaullah (who is also Shahbaz Sharif’s trusted lieutenant) denied the impression that Chaudhry Nisar had not entertained the request of the chief minister. “In fact, Chaudhry Nisar did not quit after the persuasion of Shahbaz Sharif,” he said.

During the last two days Shahbaz Sharif travelled to Islamabad and held back-to-back meetings with Chaudhry Nisar and pleaded him not to go ahead with his planned presser to vent his frustration for allegedly being ignored by the premier in consultative meetings on Panama Papers case and other allied matters.

A PML-N leader who is close to Shahabz Sharif also shared his opinion with Dawn. “Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar were very good friends. In the past the duo held meetings with the army top brass at a time when the PML-N had misgivings on different issues. With this background, Shahbaz had assured his elder brother Nawaz Sharif that he would placate the interior minister and arrange his meeting with him (Nawaz) to remove misunderstanding between them,” he said.

He said Shahabaz Sharif was quite confident that Chaudhry Nisar would not turn down his “request” but the latter remained adamant and decried being ignored by the prime minister. “In case Nisar distances himself from the party, I think Shahbaz will have problems maintaining good relations with the army in future,” he said.

At a time when almost all members of the Sharif family faced embarrassment after revelations by the joint investigation team (JIT) which probed alleged money laundering and offshore business dealings, the chief minister defended the party with added vigour after escaping any major indictment.

The general perception is that in case the prime minister and his children get adverse decision in the Panama Papers case, Shahbaz aspires a ‘wider role’ in the PML-N.

“Nisar’s decision to make his issues with Nawaz Sharif public has also affected his relationship with Shahbaz,” believes another PML-N leader. “Decade-old friendship of Shahbaz and Nisar seems to be crumbling,” he said.

There had been talks in the party that Chaudhry Nisar had a desire to become chief minister in case Shahbaz was elevated to the top position in the Centre. “Now with a possible departure of Nisar from the PML-N, Shahbaz may be a happy man having no contender in Punjab in case he finds a role in the Centre,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2017