PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif on Thursday skipped “an all-important meeting” with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in jail, fuelling speculation the two brothers had developed differences on the issue of joining the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam’s (JUI-F) Azadi march on Oct 31.
Shahbaz came under the spotlight for his alleged opposition to suggestions that his party should join the march to Islamabad after some leaders — including the son-in-law of Nawaz, retired Capt Mohammad Safdar — declared that the former prime minister had given a “go-ahead” to the workers to participate in it to oust the “selected government”.
Shahbaz did not go to Kot Lakhpat jail on Thursday to meet his elder brother despite the party’s announcement that the former would present suggestions of its senior leaders to the latter regarding joining the JUI-F protest. The former Punjab chief minister was to announce Nawaz’s decision on the matter after the meeting.
A backache was cited as the reason for Shahbaz’s failure to meet his elder brother.
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Sources believe that since Shahbaz is not in favour of joining the march announced by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, he “postponed” his meeting with Nawaz on Thursday as he wanted to present “strong arguments” against the proposal to his brother later.
However, a television channel quoted Shahbaz on Thursday night as saying he could have different views on some issues but his elder brother’s decision was final and the party would follow it.
After meeting Nawaz, Capt Safdar disclosed that the party supremo’s message to the workers was “they must participate” in Maulana Fazl’s protest. “Those who love the country will join the march,” he quoted Nawaz as having said.
“Maulana Fazl is the groom of the Azadi march and the PML-N will be with him… After independence this will be the biggest sit-in in the country’s history,” Capt Safdar said.
He said the proposed Islamabad sit-in was not only about getting rid of the government but also for “freedom of occupied Kashmir”. “Nawaz Sharif said this sit-in is for giving respect to the ballot and for freedom of Kashmir,” he added.
Another senior PML-N leader Mian Javed Latif said that Nawaz had written a letter to Maulana Fazl informing him about the party’s decision to join the anti-government march.
PML-N’s Lahore chief Pervaiz Malik confirmed in a statement that on the directive of Nawaz the party would take part in the march. “Time has come to get rid of Imran Khan’s fascist government,” he said.
The party’s spokesperson, Marriyum Aurangzeb, said the party would announce its decision once Nawaz took one.
She dismissed reports about differences between the two brothers over the march, describing them as a “malicious campaign”.
A meeting of PML-N stalwarts which was presided over by Shahbaz in Lahore could not agree on joining the Azadi march. However, the party leaders pledged to follow whatever decision Nawaz would take in this regard.
Those who expressed reservations over joining the protest asked as to how would the opposition manage to send Prime Minister Imran Khan packing through a long march of a few days, as Maulana Fazl was unsure about staging a sit-in (in Islamabad) for an indefinite period.
Failure to dislodge the government or pressure it into announcing mid-term polls would further push the opposition against the wall, they said. Also, a “clear agenda” for the protest had yet to be shared with the PML-N.
Those who spoke in favour of joining the Azadi march said the PML-N could not afford to stay out of this “huge political activity” as this might result in the party conceding some political ground to the other parties.
According to sources in the PML-N, Shahbaz has never been in favour of doing the politics of ‘agitation’, especially against the powers that be.
“Be it the occasion of return of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz from London 15 months ago to face jail when the Shahbaz-led rally in Lahore wandered for hours to reach airport which it couldn’t or any other such event the junior Sharif is always keen to avoid confrontation with the military establishment,” a party insider said. On this occasion (JUI-F’s march) too, Shahbaz wanted no confrontation.
“Since the Imran Khan government enjoys a strong backing of the establishment, going along with the JUI-F protest march means going against the establishment which he can never afford. Shahbaz is still trying hard to find a middle way.”
On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif has categorically refused to cut a deal with the establishment at this stage, saying he had nothing to lose now.
“Nawaz wants confrontation with both the PTI government and its backers come what may. And Maulana Fazl’s protest plan is providing a perfect platform to Nawaz to confront the power brokers,” he said, adding that with such a conflict in the approach of two brothers, the PML-N has landed in a quandary and finds it difficult to achieve any sustainable political gain.