As PML-N eyeing power, internal rift deepens

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In late last year, a power broker had predicted, nay, shared some information about the likely changes to take place in early this year. “There will be change at government level before the next budget,” he said. What will be the changes? That he didn’t explain. By then, petition against the extension granted to army chief was not filed.

However, as situation took a dramatic turn after the Supreme Court verdict on extension and the subsequent legislation, a common-sense guess is that plan of change might have been delayed, if not averted, given the Imran Khan government’s vociferous defense on every frontier. But the major opposition parties are not behind on this count. The PML-N, for instance, was in the lead to offer “unconditional support” to amendment in Army Act as authorized by Mian Nawaz Sharif, to the shock of many takers of his “vote ko izzat du” slogan.

Now after the legislation has been approved, smaller parties in the ruling alliance have started posing threat to the government giving credence to the speculations of change. The MQM’s only minister, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, has resigned. The PML-Q’s only minister, Tariq Bashir Cheema, was conspicuous by absence from Tuesday’s cabinet meeting without any prior notice. On Monday night, he had expressed reservations against the government in a talk show. Also, partnership between the two key stakeholders of the system is not at par excellence.

In the given scenario, PML-N is expecting some return of the “unconditional support” to amendment which it extended at the cost of die-hard supporters. While this gesture has appeased the power players, rift in the party deepens. Some of its leaders are in trouble for violating the oath they were administered in famous London meeting where the Nawaz Sharif’s decision of unconditional support to the amendment was conveyed under oath and others are in hot waters for abstaining from the vote on the amendment.

Three-decade old friendship between Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khawaja Asif appears to be the biggest casualty of this crisis. Khawaja was the man who had proposed the name of Shahid for premiership after Nawaz Sharif was disqualified. Shahid was the person who had connected Khawaja with the present power players. Not only introduced, they dined together with the most powerful man a number of times. Their present status of relationship? “They are virtually not at speaking term,” said one party leader.

As Shahid came to attend the National Assembly session Tuesday, Khawaja avoided him, let alone shaking hands, according to journalists present in Parliament. Rana Tanvir and Ayaz Sadiq were sitting in another room with Khawaja by the time Shahid was present at the office of the opposition leader, Shehbaz Sharif. As Rana and Ayaz went to that office, Shahid sent them back saying he was in an important meeting with Miftah Ismail and Musaddaq Malik. (Miftah told The News that since they were busy in discussing a personal matter, other leaders left the place after hand-shake. Khawaja Asif denied having coming face to face with Shahid and also dispelled the impression of any bitterness.)

Bad blood started creating over the issue of “unconditional support”. Shahid was the first to allege Khawaja for not taking him in the loop. Khawaja, on defensive, first explained to him and then went public to declare that it was Nawaz Sharif’s decision to support the amendment and that he was only a messenger. This unexpected exposure was much to the embarrassment of Nawaz who was apparently holding the mantle of “civilian supremacy.” Reaction followed. The PML-N social media supporters close to Maryam Nawaz started openly attacking Khawaja for “ditching the leadership.”

While he was in the line of fire for making inside story of London meeting public, the top leadership was also unhappy with Rana Tanvir and Ayaz Sadiq for tacitly endorsing Khawaja’s disclosure. Ayaz, in a rare display of bluntness, said in a parliamentary meeting held after the passage of the bill that Maryam should have asked his father about the veracity of Khawaja’s disclosure instead of condemning others for conveying this message to party lawmakers. He said this in response to MNA Javed Latif’s criticism.

It has been learnt that Khawaja is now thinking of quitting the post of parliamentary leader as more challenges are ahead like the appointments of chief election commissioner and the members of Election Commission of Pakistan. He doesn’t go to talk shows any more. After the passage of amendment, he only participated in a couple of TV programs and has been refusing appearance since then. Meanwhile, his role is also being reduced. For example, the decisions of top leadership to Parliamentary Advisory Group are conveyed through Attaullah Tarar, deputy secretary general, instead of having them routed through Khawaja.

What will PML-N get in the changing scenario remains to be seen. According to an informed official, a power-sharing formula is under consideration to form a kind of national government. However, PML-N is hesitant to become part of any such arrangement. It wants either fresh elections or change in house.

On the other hand, Imran Khan has reportedly threatened to dissolve assemblies if he’s forced to quit through no-confidence. A minister close to the power brokers has claimed that Shehbaz is expected to return Pakistan in a couple of weeks. His younger son is also in contact with powerful circles along with his close associates through an influential relative of somebody in Lahore. Meanwhile, consensus is being forged on new chief election commissioner. The PML-N is considering the name of Sikandar Sultan Raja, retired federal secretary and son-in-law of Saeed Mehdi, former principal secretary to Mian Nawaz Sharif during his second term as PM, after it was floated by the government . It has also been conveyed to the Parliamentary Advisory Group.