Could Shahbaz Sharif help the PMLN mend fences with the powers-that-be?
Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada, an anti-Nawaz rebel within the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), says Nawaz Sharif shouldn’t have become leader of the party again after being disqualified as prime minister under Article 63-A of the Constitution. He is in favor of Nawaz’s younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, taking over as party leader, possibly utilizing by-elections to assume the premiership and succeeding current incumbent Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
Pirzada’s statement places him squarely in the growing PMLN club that wants the party not to take on the “institutions.” This view tallies with the one expressed by Shahbaz’s son Hamza when Maryam Nawaz called on her uncle: let’s not take on forces we can’t fight. Now Pirzada has repeated the more flexible field strategy of survival: don’t defy odds when you know you will be beaten again.
Did the Shahbaz faction accept Pirzada as its spokesman? It did. Punjab government spokesman Malik Ahmad Khan stated to the press: “The moderate section in the party does not want confrontation with the institutions and wants the system to work.” He followed with words that explain what “pragmatic” means for the faction:”Mr. Shahbaz (sic!) always served his party and his elder brother, and after donning the cap of president [of the party] he will continue doing so.”
Nawaz Sharif has got the sack as prime minister three times and borne the brunt of what accompanies dethronement in Pakistan. That he has become case-hardened is beyond question, his convictions reinforced by what people go through under punishment. On the other hand, much-married Shahbaz Sharif has been living a more normal, at times philandering, life, his family safe from the retardation that Nawaz’s two boys experienced. His sons Hamza and Suleman are more politically presentable than Nawaz’s Hassan and Hussain, ensuring family succession to power. There is injustice in the proposed transition but pragmatism is dawning on the party under pressure and the will to survive might actually lead it to convince Nawaz to step back and let Shahbaz negotiate survival with the “institutions.”