DISCORD and drama in PML-N ranks escalated this week when Shahid Khaqan Abbasi revealed he no longer holds a party position. While Mr Abbasi publicly maintains he is stepping away from the role to give Maryam Nawaz space as the party’s newly appointed chief organiser, it appears there is more than meets the eye. These fissures have not appeared out of nowhere.
Mr Abbasi is a party stalwart who for years had commanded the respect of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. When the PTI came to power, as senior vice president, Mr Abbasi was one of the key PML-N figures defending the party at several forums as it faced the government’s wrath. He himself faced cases and spent time in jail. Given his role and close association with the senior-most leadership, it was jarring that, when the PDM came to power and Shehbaz Sharif became PM, Mr Abbasi did not take a cabinet position or portfolio. It also became obvious that Mr Abbasi, who is close to former finance minister Miftah Ismail, was annoyed over the way his colleague was undermined and unceremoniously replaced by Ishaq Dar. Now, Ms Nawaz’s elevation, undertaken without consulting other party members, has thrust these mixed feelings into the spotlight. It is clear that the Sharif family’s penchant for appointing family members to key positions is unsettling to some in the party. At a time when politics in Punjab has changed and the PTI has captured the urban middle class’s imagination with its anti-dynastic, anti-corruption narrative, some find it difficult to justify the ongoing nepotism. Even Ms Nawaz may be feeling the heat: during her address in Bahawalnagar, she felt the need to justify such politics. Where does this leave people like Mr Abbasi? Many speculate that his resignation from his position means he will exit the PML-N altogether, and perhaps launch something of his own, though he has denied such rumours. Still, his participation and vocal opinions on the Reimagining Pakistan platform have caused many to wonder if he is testing the waters. As this unfolds, the PML-N leadership must confront the serious questions of leadership and the future of the party that have long haunted it. For a party that has consistently avoided facing harsh truths when it comes to its everlasting internal power politics, Mr Abbasi’s bowing out has further muddied the waters.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2023