The latest spat between the PMLN’s ex-information minister and senior politician Pervaiz Rashid and ex-interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is a good indicator of the internal journey of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif from a conservative protégé of an ideological establishment to an enlightened modernist leader leaning toward secular-democratic ideals. Rashid came close to calling Khan a representative of the deep state, who didn’t do enough to parry the blows coming from Imran Khan’s establishment-supported Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and his spook-supported “dharna” (sit-in) politics.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has long been a trusted lieutenant of Sharif as a rightwing leader that military dictator General Ziaul Haq had nurtured as a Punjabi substitute for the Sindhi leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto he toppled from power. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s links with the military were always well-known—and were considerably “useful” for the prime minister—but his reluctance to take on the establishment directly from his interior ministry was noticed by many, including his reference to Imran Khan as an “old friend from school.”
But the real break came from within, as Sharif’s adherence to hard Islam softened. People saw it in his efforts to normalize relations with India and his remarkable fraternization with the Hindu community, which the Chief Justice of Pakistan avoided naming in his recent address in Quetta. Earlier this year, Sharif met the Hindu community of Karachi and declared that he would join them in celebrating the holi festival. He was condemned by the clergy for this “unholy intimacy,” but what took the cake was his January address to them as he inaugurated the restoration of an ancient Hindu temple complex in Punjab: “In my personal view, we are all are equal—Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians—and people belonging to other religions; we are all one.” His own party was bemused but there were some like Pervaiz Rashid who welcomed it.