BLUFFING is one of the methods the police here use to solve crime involving more than one perpetrator. In this method, suspects are told that their accomplice had spilled the beans on them and that they are now far better off letting the canary inside them take over. In time, the message is sent to the accomplice about how he has been betrayed, how the other half of the enterprise had come out with dark secrets and how he was now willing to do the bidding of those who had broken him down.
The technique has been so successful that it has been applied outside the police lockup to break all kinds of partnerships. The same story has been repeated many times over.
Read: It takes two to tangle
For many months, many years in fact, an effort has been made to drive a wedge between the Sharif brothers, the long-time holders of the PML patent. Quite often, an agent working towards their split has emerged from the operation room, triumphantly waving at the expectant crowd ‘evidence’ of how that separation was imminent.
The operators have given the people the good news of the long-anticipated breakup of the most celebrated jori on the Pakistani stage time and again — but only for things to not quite live up to their lucid imagination.
Nawaz Sharif is in firm control of the PML-N ship, even if incarcerated, and the signs are that it is going to stay like this in the foreseeable future.
This time, they say it is different. Finally, finally, a breach has been found to exist between Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif. The accounts provided by some journalists about the relationship between the two Sharif brothers point out long-existing tensions. Even those who greeted any rumours of any kind of heartburn within the dynasty with the customary ‘sawal hi paida nahin hota’ — the question does not even arise — have been forced into silence. Even the biggest fans of the duo now accept that there are definitely signs of a ‘variety’ of views existing within the old family fold. The more frank among them would admit that there is dissent.
There has been dissent for many, many years, and the new evidence in the ‘break up Sharif’ campaign only reconfirms it. The next question for the party and for those who are trying to pull it in two different directions is: can this stark difference of opinion lead to the emergence of two entirely different outfits under the two Sharifs or to the annihilation of one group at the hands of the other? This is a question which still begs an answer and it is a tribute to this ‘brotherly’ bond that it has not snapped under the great pressure mounted on it.
The Azadi March by Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a good search engine to get an idea of how intense the dissent is inside the PML-N. The march has laid open just how strongly Mian Shahbaz Sharif feels against an adventure that, in his judgement apparently, could take the party further away from the kingmakers in the country.
At the same time, the deliberations over whether or not to join the Fazl protest bring out just how impossible it is for anyone in the PML-N to take their disagreement to a level where a parting of ways with the party becomes inevitable. There is grave risk of a dissenter isolating himself by taking a position that clashes too much with that of a man who completes this PML by providing it with the vital ‘N’.
Mian Sahib is in firm control of the PML-N ship, even if incarcerated and the signs are that it is going to stay like this in the foreseeable future. Indeed, one debate that the elder Sharif brother may be encouraged by pertains to the chances of him being rehabilitated in the country’s politics as a challenger for power. Although never formally called off, this discussion about Mian Nawaz Sharif’s claim on power has been given a new lease of life by a minister who everyone believes wields considerable authority in the decision-making circles of the country.
Retired Brigadier Ijaz Shah was as casual about it as he was when he tried to dispel allegations about having any role in the Benazir Bhutto murder in December 2007. Back then, he tried to clear his name by admitting to have played a certain pre-poll role, only for his efforts to be thwarted by Ms Bhutto’s assassination. He tried to give the impression that he was struck by the suddenness of it all, in the process seeking to absolve himself of any role in the attack.
That was then, leaving aside how effective this attempt at pleading not guilty was.
Now in the course of another television interview, Brig Shah expanded with the same innocence on the demerits of some of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s close associates who led him astray. Ijaz Shah’s was a very revealing talk, even when he pretended to say little. He went so far as to say that Mian Sahib could well have secured a fourth term as prime minister for himself, but for the few people around him who misguided him.
Did this open a little window of opportunity somewhere? In an expression of unshaken belief in the leadership of Mian Nawaz Sharif, his supporters would assert that he was never out of the race, and that what important people say about him not only reinforces their view about their leader, but also helps win Mian Sahib more backers from among Pakistanis already missing his ‘good governance’.
Consequently, there was no shortage of PML-N well-wishers who attached greater meaning to the confidence Mian Sahib displayed when, a few days after the Shah interview, the PML-N chief was allowed an ‘unexpected’ run-in with the media during a visit to the accountability court in the Chaudhry sugar mills case. They are in agreement with the minister. Subject to a few minor changes that make him acceptable, Mian Sahib is good for a few more terms as the prime minister. He might want to lose some around him but Shahbaz Sharif is most definitely not one of them.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019