Something historically familiar seems to be happening. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) is developing fractures after Nawaz Sharif’s ouster from the office of prime minister. His erstwhile interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, is rumored to be especially aggrieved and has signaled a party-split over a spat Sharif had with the Army high command. The PMLN will now likely descend into charges and counter-charges about who caused Sharif’s downfall.
Sharif holds a record of falling out with Pakistan’s powerful Army over policy in general and over how to behave toward India in particular. In 1999, he was removed from power and jailed by personally appointed chief of Army General Pervez Musharraf despite having Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s military connections in his corner—Khan’s brother General Iftikhar Ali Khan was the former secretary of Defense and Chief of General Staff (CGS). It appears that Khan couldn’t convince Nawaz against tangling with the Army as much as he could convince his more pragmatic brother, and Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif. Now the PMLN seems to be splitting on Nawaz-Shahbaz lines.
Nawaz “safely” chose his petroleum minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, as his caretaker before deciding on who would succeed him. (Abbasi’s late father, Khaqan Abbasi, was an air commodore in the Pakistan Air Force and his father-in-law General Muhammad Riaz Abbasi was the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence.) Policy should now be back in the favored rut. And it is perhaps telling that Nawaz didn’t decide in favor of his brother, who was not even made head of the party. And if he thought he could ease his daughter Maryam into power, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s snide remarks about her on TV clearly point to pushback within the party.
Perhaps it is time to split. The Pakistan Muslim League, as a political entity, has historically preferred splitting as opposed to disappearing. One can’t count on one’s fingers how many times it has fractured only to produce many offshoots. The PMLN itself was an offshoot of the ruling PML-Junejo after Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo fell out of favor with General Zia, who actually ruled Pakistan. The upcoming general elections of 2018 will show how much the PMLN has frayed this time around.