MARYAM tweets on Saturday that ‘Nawaz Sharif is ... leading PML-N. I am not even an aspirant. Am happy to be working as [a party] worker’.
MARYAM tweets on Saturday that ‘Nawaz Sharif is ... leading PML-N. I am not even an aspirant. Am happy to be working as [a party] worker’.

ISLAMABAD/NEW YORK: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is already reeling from rumours of a split in the wake of the ouster of Nawaz Sharif, was thrown another curveball on Saturday after the daughter of the former prime minister hinted that she might be given a leadership role in the party.

Although Maryam Nawaz Sharif — who celebrated her 44th birthday on Saturday — told the New York Times in a recent interview that there were people who thought she was “meant for a certain role”, she denied ever saying that her family had decided that she should take the reins of the party.

“The statement that ‘the family decided that I should be leading the party’ is wrongly ascribed to me. There never has been any such decision. Nawaz Sharif is and Insha’Allah will be leading PML-N. I am not even an aspirant. Am happy to be working as [a party] worker,” she tweeted on Saturday.

Ex-PM’s daughter disputes NYT quote; leaders say too early to say whether she or Hamza will lead the party

Although both she and senior party leaders deny the impression that the PML-N is a “divided house”, insiders admit there are ‘differences of opinion’ within the party, especially over the leadership vacuum created in the wake of the former prime minister’s ouster.

The impression is strengthened by reports of a rivalry between Ms Sharif and her cousin, Hamza Shahbaz, which is said to have been quelled only after the Punjab chief minister mediated between the two at a recent meeting.

In the NYT interview, Ms Sharif only had praise for her uncle and supported his chances of becoming the next prime minister. “He’s the most competent person. He’s my hero. I love him to death,” NYT quoted her as saying about Shahbaz Sharif.

Local PML-N leader and former MNA Shakil Awan, who defeated Sheikh Rashid Ahmed in the 2010 by-elections, endorsed Ms Sharif’s view, saying that there was no split in the party. However, he maintained that if Nawaz Sharif left office, it was his younger brother Shahbaz who deserved to take his place.

The whole party, he said, had complete confidence in Nawaz Sharif’s leadership. “There is no question about who will become party chief while Nawaz Sharif is still around,” he said.

However, Mr Awan admitted that there were concerns in the party, based mainly on the cases instituted against the Sharif family.

“The whole party is disturbed over why only one family is being targeted in the name of accountability, while those who openly committed corruption and became billionaires within in few years were still free to do anything,” he said.

The whole party believed that while Shahbaz Sharif and even former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan could have differences of opinion with Nawaz, but they all firmly backed the elder Sharif as their leader.

Nisar and his erstwhile cabinet colleague Riaz Hussain Pirzada have recently gone public with their own opinions about who should succeed the elder Sharif; the former doubting Maryam’s credentials and the latter suggesting that Shahbaz Sharif take over from his brother.

Cabinet minister and senior party leader Mushahidullah Khan, however, saw a political conspiracy behind such reports. The opposition, especially the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, he said, wanted to gain political mileage by propagating the narrative that there were rifts within the Sharif family.

“Nawaz Sharif is our party president and his decisions are unquestioningly accepted by party leaders and workers,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of Maryam or Hamza playing a leadership role in the party, he said that all such speculation was purely hypothetical while Nawaz Sharif was still there.

But, if such a decision was to be taken, it would also be made by Nawaz Sharif, he concluded.

Another PML-N leader, Rana Afzal, said that both Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz had different kinds of political experience, but it was not yet time to consider them to lead the party.

Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2017