LAHORE: Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif may not name those who in his view had ill-advised his elder brother to confront the military and judiciary but he and the like-minded group in the PML-N do want ousted premier Nawaz Sharif to revisit the policy in keeping with the demand of the day.

According to a party insider, Shahbaz’s outburst against some ‘advisers’ to Nawaz has come in the backdrop of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s strong reaction to the Rangers’ deployment in the accountability court in Islamabad. The Rangers had stopped Mr Iqbal and other ministers from entering court premises during the appearance of the former premier in three graft cases on Oct 3.

“There is no point in naming names. Everyone in the party and even outsiders know who had been asking Mr Sharif to adopt the course of confrontation with the judiciary and military establishment. There are clearly two groups in the party; one advocates confrontation (with the state institutions) and the other wants peaceful coexistence and the latter is obviously spearheaded by Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan,” says a PML-N leader close to Shahbaz.

He said ever since Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case on July 28, Shahbaz had been underscoring the need to mend ties with the establishment. Eventually, he got frustrated after a spat between the interior minister and the Punjab Rangers and Mr Iqbal’s resolve to take up the matter with the top brass and announcement that he would resign if his grievance was not addressed, he said.

“Those in favour of reconciling with the establishment in the PML-N see this incident as an escalation of tension between the government and the military and a setback to the efforts to normalise relations,” said the PML-N leader.

In the general council meeting of the PML-N earlier this week, Shahbaz Sharif had assailed some advisers to his elder brother and urged him (Nawaz) to consult the members of the council instead of listening to “those who had misled you for the sake of perks and posts”.

A source said Shahbaz Sharif’s comments had been interpreted by many in the party as he was referring to none other than Maryam Nawaz for advising her father to stand tall in trying times.

Malik Ahmad Khan, the spokesman for the Punjab government, corroborates that Shahbaz Sharif doesn’t believe in confrontation among the institutions. “There should be coexistence and no case of stepping into each other’s domain,” he told Dawn.

Asked whether he would like to name those the chief minister had referred to during his speech, he said: “There is no point in naming those advisers. We should not muddy waters by making harsh comments,” he said. Having said that, he added, the former premier should be given a chance of fair trial.

Highlighting the other point of view, a close aide to Nawaz Sharif told Dawn that earlier Chaudhry Nisar had advised restraint and the policy of reconciliation. “The story does not start here. Let me tell Mr Shahbaz that it began with the proposal (of his close associate) to let retired Gen Musharraf off the hook and facilitate his travel abroad and other matters, especially the service extension of another army chief (Raheel Sharif). Nothing is hidden from Shahbaz or Nisar as all the issues cropped up during the last four years of the PML-N government.

“Since Nawaz is shaken after the disqualification, he is in no mood to take this kind of advice from his younger brother at the moment. He may heed Shahbaz’s messages once there is genuine hope of improvement in civil-military ties.”

There is another view that signs of rift within the PML-N at this juncture don’t augur well for the party that is already facing a crunch time.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2017

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