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PML-N troika says no rifts within party

Updated October 31, 2017

LONDON/KARACHI: After having deliberations with the top brass of his party, including his “establishment-friendly” younger brother, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday brushed aside reports of a rift inside the Pakistan Muslim League-N and declared that there was no “minus-Nawaz” formula at play.

It appears that the high-level moot in London — attended by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif — failed to convince Nawaz Sharif to soften his stance about state institutions as he again criticised the Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Papers case that had disqualified him for possessing an iqama.

“Had this been a fair trial, then I would not have been disqualified on an iqama instead of Panama [papers],” Nawaz Sharif told media after the much-hyped meeting held at the opulent central London residence of his son Hasan. “Nothing is transparent,” he declared.

The trio met to discuss the combined challenges of the upcoming 2018 elections and the legal cases faced by Nawaz Sharif and his family.

Ousted PM to return on Nov 2; slams SC verdict

Quoting unnamed sour­ces, Pakistani news channels claimed that Nawaz Sharif was assured by his younger brother and PM Abbasi that the party would never accept a “minus-Nawaz” formula and it would resist all such attempts.

They said the meeting had decided that the PML-N would not accept, or support at any stage, any act in contrast with the Constitution.

The elder Sharif announced that he would return to Pakistan on Nov 2 to appear before an accountability court, which had issued his bailable arrest warrant for Nov 3.

Nawaz Sharif, who reached London on Sunday after spending a week in Saudi Arabia, said he knew “what is going on” currently.

He repeated his claim that his dismissal had led to a sharp fall in the stock market thereby undermining the national economy.

He dismissed rumours of an internal party rift and insisted there was no “minus-Nawaz” formula at play.

Before him, both PM Abbasi and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif together spoke to the media and they also rejected rumours about any division in the party.

PM Abbasi, who arrived at Heathrow airport with no official protocol and made his own way to London’s public transport system, said he along with Shahbaz Sharif had discussed “current political situation and ongoing development projects” in the country during the meeting.

He asked reporters to tell him who was dividing the PML-N and who was making Shahbaz Sharif its president. He said it was the prerogative of the general council and the party had elected Nawaz Sharif as its president.

In reply to a question, Mr Abbasi said he was visiting London in his personal capacity and he had taken one-day leave from the government in order to attend the meeting.

When asked about the ousted PM’s demand of a free and fair trial, Shahbaz Sharif said it was a just demand.

The Punjab CM arrived in London from Qatar for what he said was a private visit to inquire after the health of his sister-in-law Kulsoom Nawaz, who is being treated in the UK for cancer.

However, he admitted to reporters that, in fact, he had come to London to talk politics including tactics for next year’s elections.

Nawaz Sharif’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia was initially described as a private one, but Saudi officials greeted him at Jeddah airport and reports suggested that he did meet members of the royal family last Wednesday.

The PML-N insiders described the meetings with Saudi royals as positive and speculated that Nawaz Sharif would want to share details of these developments with PM Abbasi and other senior party leaders.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2017