• Insiders say Shehbaz, sons are trying to talk the elder Sharif down
• Ex-PM says no changes to elder brother’s homecoming plan

LAHORE: With his aggressive stance, demanding the accountability of former generals and judges, making some within the party uneasy ahead of his planned return to Pakistan on Oct 21, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is giving his stated position “a second thought”, party insiders told Dawn on Monday.

“Although the elder Sharif had refused to accept the request made by his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif to shun the ‘anti-generals narrative’ during a huddle in London last week, it seems he has now agreed to review his stated position,” said a party insider privy to developments.

Another source said the party’s so-called ‘narrative committee’, which consists of senior leaders, had also asked the elder Sharif not to be a ‘prisoner of the past’.

“Mr Sharif has been asked to present himself in his speeches as the hope of the future and assume the role of the statesman,” the source said.

When contacted, senior PML-N leaders Rana Sanaullah, Marriyum Aurangzeb, and Attaullah Tarar did not confirm or deny the development.

The unease within party ranks over the seeming ‘war of narratives’ between the elder Sharif and his younger brother came to a head recently when former PM Shehbaz Sharif rushed back to London a mere 48 hours after returning to Pakistan from the UK.

It was widely believed that the reason for his swift return to the UK was to convince his elder brother to tone down his demands for the accountability of judges and generals, which were not finding favour with power corridors that had otherwise been quite friendly to the party during the previous government’s tenure.

The bone of contention was Nawaz Sharif’s recent outburst against former COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa, ex-spymaster Faiz Hamid, and former CJPs Asif Khosa and Saqib Nisar during an address to party ticket holders.

The elder Sharif has refused to budge from his demand, but his brother, sons, and party leaders have apparently been trying to convince him otherwise.

“Shehbaz… some other party leaders… and his sons are trying to persuade the elder Sharif to revisit his strong position on the accountability of former generals,” the source said.

The narrative committee has also asked the supremo to talk about the promotion of regional peace, constitutionalism and the rule of law, the constitution of a truth and reconciliation commission for national reconstruction, and economy. “This is the time for reforms, not slogans and confrontation,” insiders said.

Homecoming plan ‘final’

As the rumour mills continued to churn and anticipation built around the return of Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif told reporters on Monday that the programme for his return was final.

“The programme is final for October 21 and Mian Nawaz Sharif is returning to Pakistan,” the former PM said in a brief media interaction outside Stanhope House after meeting the elder Sharif.“I appeal to PML-N representatives to pause international travel till October 21 and prepare for a resounding welcome… There are many who wish to meet their ‘Quaid’ in London, but now they should plan to meet him in Pakistan.”

When asked what the party’s narrative would be ahead of elections, he reiterated what he said a few days earlier about the achievements of the government in Nawaz’s last term, saying the ex-PM had ended 20-hour loadshedding, facilitated billions in investment into CPEC, and boosted employment and exports. “In Nawaz Sharif’s term, inflation was low, GDP was higher than 6.5pc…he is returning to continue that journey for prosperity in the country.”

Monday marked yet another day of heightened activity at Stanhope House, the de-facto headquarters of the PML-N in London, where the party’s senior leadership met and deliberated on the logistics and preparations for Nawaz Sharif’s return.

Maryam Nawaz is set to leave London for Pakistan via Dubai on Monday evening, and has been tasked with supervising all the arrangements and preparations for Nawaz’s return. Shehbaz is also expected to leave London in the next few days to return to Pakistan ahead of his brother’s arrival.

Similarly, the PML-N issued directives for all its senators, former lawmakers and ticket-holders on Monday to make sure that they remain in the country and those abroad should return within three days to consume their energies only for mobilisation of the people for ‘historic homecoming’ of their self-exiled leader Nawaz Sharif.

“All party senators, former MNAs and MPAs and ticket-holders must remain in country and those abroad return within three days, and all those planning to go to London to meet Nawaz Sharif drop their programme and only focus on mobilisation of the people in their constituencies to accord historic welcome to him,” said the president’s directive.

Atika Rehman in London also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2023

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