LAHORE: The abrupt change in the stance of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif towards former army generals and retired judges is causing unease among party ranks, with many leaders fearing that such a bold engagement could invite the wrath of the establishment.
Of late, the PML-N appears to have become the ‘favourite’ political party of the powers that be and the rigid stance of the elder Sharif — seeking accountability of former COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa, ex-spymaster Faiz Hamid, and former CJPs Asif Khosa and Saqib Nisar — may disturb the “ideal equation” with the establishment, party insiders believe.
After four years in London, Nawaz Sharif is set to return on Oct 21. With a month left before his arrival, he does not seem in any mood to abandon his long-standing demand for the ‘strict accountability’ of generals and judges for their alleged involvement in a ‘conspiracy’ to oust him from power in 2017.
However, the party’s current president, his younger brother Shehbaz, has tried his best to convince his brother to review his strategy in a recent London huddle, but to no avail. Now, the party sits on the edge of a precipice “wary of potential backlash”, insiders say.
Insiders believe Nawaz’s persistence with demand for judges, generals’ accountability can disturb party’s ‘ideal equation’ with powers that be
Sources told Dawn that in a meeting with PML-N representatives and workers last week, Shehbaz Sharif expressed his displeasure over a news briefing given from London on the accountability issue. The sources said the PML-N president took exception to reports that the subject of accountability was raised during an earlier meeting where he and Nawaz spoke to party workers, claiming that no such a thing was ever mentioned.
Some party leaders Dawn spoke to said they were wary of a potential backlash of the ‘anti-generals and judges’ narrative.
“We have to be very careful and calculated in the anti-Bajwa narrative. What happened to the PML-N after its decision to try Gen Musharraf under Article 6 in 2014 is in front of everyone. Let bygones be bygones. Who knows where this slogan of accountability will take the PML-N, especially the elder Sharif, in the current political scenario,” a member of the former PDM government opined.
According to the leader, the party was in a comfortable spot to clinch power and any ‘wrong move’ may reverse this progress.
“We should not forget the fate of Imran Khan and his PTI,” the party leader said and added “most of the leaders were questioning the need to adopt a policy of confrontation” at a time when the PTI had been tagged as the “anti-establishment party”.
“The PML-N has many other things/achievements it can use to build its narrative… why taking on former generals is so necessary to grab votes,” he questioned.
Another leader told Dawn that judging from the reaction to Nawaz Sharif’s comments about the accountability of generals and judges, it is perhaps “pragmatic to drop the topic till the elections”.
“If we come into power, this accountability issue can be raised again. Right now, we should focus our narrative on the economic crisis, the blame game is not offering any solutions,” the leader said.
Former interior minister Rana Sanaullah has, of late, been defending the narrative put forth by the elder Sharif on TV, terming it a principled stance. “We will not budge,” he said, adding it was necessary to expose the ‘real characters’ involved in the ouster of Nawaz government and causing the economy to nose-dive.
‘All is well’
In a conversation with Dawn, PML-N Information Secretary Azma Bokhari did not agree with the view that there was an unease within the party over Mr Nawaz’s demand for accountability of former generals and judges. “Nawaz Sharif will return on Oct 21 and tell the people at Minar-i-Pakistan the same day about the causes of Pakistan’s problems and will present their solutions,” she said.
When asked if the PML-N might open the door of confrontation with the military establishment — like PTI chiarman Imran Khan did — if it did not stop targeting Gen Bajwa, Ms Bokhari said: “We can’t be compared with Mr Khan. No action against him and his party was taken even when he called the establishment animal or ‘Dirty Harry’. The PTI faced action after crossing a red line by attacking the military installations on May 9.”
Word of caution
Not only PML-N leaders, but some former allies are also asking the elder Sharif to have a change of heart.
Both the PPP and the Istehkham-i-Pakistan Party (IPP) have dropped a word of caution to the Sharifs in this regard.
PPP senior leader Khursheed Shah on Saturday advised the elder Sharif against seeking action against Gen Bajwa and Gen Hameed. In an interview on DawnNewsTV, Shah said the PML-N’s plan to go after the two former military leaders seemed “very difficult”.
“Did anyone touch the man who was sentenced under Article 6 of the Constitution? He was later hospitalised, and subsequently transferred to Dubai,” Mr Shah remarked, referring to late military dictator Musharraf. “Let’s refrain from engaging in such conflicts,” he said.
IPP Patron Jahangir Tareen also wants the elder Sharif to let go of his feud with ex-generals. “Nawaz Sharif shouldn’t name personalities, especially Gen Bajwa and an incumbent SC judge who is going to be the future chief justice of Pakistan for his politics,” Mr Tareen advised.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2023