LAHORE: The embattled Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) suffered the first major dent in its stronghold — Lahore — on Thursday as one of its core members Zaeem Hussain Qadri took on his party leaders for denying him a National Assembly ticket and announced that he will contest elections independently.
A visibly angry Qadri, who served as a provincial minister and spokesperson in the last Shahbaz Sharif-led cabinet, lambasted Hamza Shahbaz, son of Shahbaz Sharif, for his role in ‘cornering’ him in the party.
“I cannot become a shoe polisher of Hamza. I have refused to do this job. I am an honourable man,” Mr Qadri told a press conference at a party office in Township after a last-ditch effort by PML-N leaders Khawaja Saad Rafique and Rana Mashhood to dissuade him against saying goodbye to the party bore no fruit.
Zaeem Qadri’s diatribe is being seen as a blow to party in its traditional stronghold Lahore
Mr Qadri’s presser was a charge-sheet against Mr Hamza whom he considered responsible for bringing him to the point where he was left with no option but to burst out against ‘injustices’ against him in the party.
Addressing Mr Hamza amid “Go Hamza go” slogans raised by his supporters, Mr Qadri thundered: “Lahore is not your and your father (Shahbaz)’s fiefdom. You are promoting your shoe polishers... I will contest the election and I ask you to bring one of your shoe polishers against me and I will show you how to win. You think I am a political orphan. I will not compromise on my honour. My election is against you. You have ruled Lahore and Punjab for the last 10 years... Bring in your trained unit here (NA-133). I will not bow before you come what may. I declare war on you.”
He also warned Mr Hamza that if any of his men spoke against him (Qadri) he would give him a befitting reply. “If any of your men dare speak against me I will expose him.”
Mr Hamza chose not to respond to Mr Qadri’s diatribe against him, just like the silence he had maintained in the Ayesha Ahad case.
Mr Qadri did not rule out existence of an “ideological group” in the PML-N, saying it might emerge in the election.
This appears to be the third major fissure in the PML-N in recent times after the defection of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and the southern Punjab parliamentarians group led by Khusro Bakhtiar.
Political pundits see Mr Qadri’s decision a ‘major setback’ for the PML-N as it may provide its opponents to exploit the situation in Lahore where the party is apparently very strong.
Aleem Khan, a leader of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, was quick to offer Mr Qadri to join his party. Mr Qadri said he was open to talks with any party.
Mr Qadri also declared that his wife Uzma Qadri, who has been nominated by the PML-N for an assembly seat reserved for women, would also not accept the party ticket. “My wife is Syed like me and she too is not willing to make tea for the servants of the party leadership,” he said.
Mr Qadri said he was not quitting the party as “I am a Muslim Leaguer” and two party workers — Imran Shah and Asif Baig — would contest election under his patronage for Punjab Assembly seats from PP-166 and PP-167, respectively.
Listing out some other reasons for parting ways with the party leadership, Mr Qadri castigated the Sharif brothers for allowing sycophants to get closer to them at the expense of loyal workers. “I joined the PML-N in Oct 1999 and was imprisoned five times,” he said. Without naming Daniyal Aziz and Tallal Chaudhry, he said: “Those who were not in the party before 2013 were made ministers only for their ability to flatter. Such people are waiting for the time when Nawaz Sharif is sent to jail. On the contrary I defended the party for five hours a day on different TV channels and I was told that I was not fit to be spokesperson for the Punjab government because I got emotional in defending the party. Shall I tell the political background of those who replaced me?
Zaeem Qadri said had Kulsoom Nawaz been well this situation for him might not have arisen. “I complain to Nawaz Sharif for not giving me audience for the last 10 years,” he said.
In reply to a question about shaking hands with leaders of religious groups like the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan as he has a religious clout, Mr Qadri said: “I will talk to religio-political parties and others to get votes.”
When asked what package Saad Rafique had offered him at the behest of the PML-N leadership, he said he had a long association with the Rafique family. “My father and Saad’s father languished in jail under Ayub and Z.A. Bhutto regimes. He asked me to review my decision, but I told him that I had to speak out my heart because I have reached a stage where if one does not speak one may suffer a psychological problem.
A charged Qadri told reporters that unlike the Sharif brothers he would take all their questions.
A PML-N insider told Dawn that the relations between Mr Qadri and the Sharif family had strained following his criticism of the Sharifs for obliging newcomers in the party due to their ‘art of flattery’. “A former minister who is close to Hamza showed a video clip to the Sharif brothers in which Zaeem Qadri was uttering harsh words about them for obliging a bunch of opportunists at the cost of loyal workers. After that clip the leadership had decided not to award him a ticket either for national or provincial assembly,” he said, adding that Mr Qadri had also had been insisting to the leadership that he wanted to contest only for a National Assembly seat.
The PML-N’s likely candidate for NA-133 is Waheed Alam Khan, a brother of a judge.
Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2018