A day after a group of PML-N MPAs from Punjab met and expressed their confidence in Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the "opposition is breaking" amid speculation of a rift between party president Shehbaz Sharif and his niece, vice-president Maryam Nawaz.
Although the PML-N has rejected reports of a 1.5-hour-long meeting between the prime minister and 15 PML-N MPAs at Bani Gala on Saturday, and denied speculation of a rift between its leadership, the rumours persist ostensibly due to the lack of agreement by opposition party leaders on a concrete and comprehensive anti-government strategy despite three meetings being called to discuss the same.
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Chaudhry addressed a press conference in Islamabad on Sunday in which he noted that although Pakistan is starting to see some 'good news', the opposition is not.
"In all this, you can see that the opposition is breaking. It's a strange thing ─ what is good for Pakistan is bad news for the opposition," he claimed.
Touching upon the alleged cracks in PML-N ranks, Chaudhry claimed that Shehbaz Sharif "was never a leader of the opposition, a leader during crisis, which is why we have seen that whenever there is such a crisis situation, he is easily sidelined and leaves the country".
Chaudhry then accused Maryam Nawaz of taking "full advantage of this" and launching "a stealthy attack" on Shehbaz's leadership and stealing it from him, in an apparent reference to the duo's public differences in opinion over a proposed charter of economy.
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He claimed that since the rise in disagreements within the party, a narrative had emerged that the PML-N was under Maryam's thumb. "The state of his [Shehbaz's] leadership is such that no one in the party even asks him his opinion on anything," he alleged.
The minister said it could be gauged from the fact that senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif had thumped his desk in approval as Shehbaz spoke about the charter of economy in the National Assembly, but later appeared to backtrack and show support instead for Maryam's stance by rejecting the charter, saying: "what Maryam said is absolutely right as per the policy of PML-N".
"This shows he [Shehbaz] has no grip on the party," Chaudhry said, adding that because Shehbaz historically is known to extricate himself from sticky situations and doesn't stand up for the party during crisis, "then naturally that's why Maryam Nawaz has stepped forward and chosen the party narrative".
The minister speculated that the dissatisfaction of PML-N MPAs was due to Maryam's politics.
"Now these people who are leaving them [PML-N], they went last night [to see the PM]. Of course, this is the first episode; the real picture will emerge later. Why are they leaving? Because they are aware of Maryam Nawaz's political acumen," the minister alleged.
"Where are those who used to listen to Maryam Nawaz?" he asked, referring to Daniyal Aziz and Tallal Chaudhry, two less-seasoned members of the top PML-N cadre who had assumed a great deal of visibility during the Panama Papers trial.
"People place their trust on ground realities, and the ground reality is that there is a war brewing in the PML-N over leadership, and moreover, among the incompetent family members," Chaudhry claimed.