Statements and visits during the past few days hint rumblings within the Sharif family, especially with the next generation leaders – Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz. For long Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif have been playing “Good Brother – Bad Brother” with the Establishment. Will this come to an end?
It all had started with the Panama trial – the differences between the Establishment and Nawaz Sharif. Perhaps, the differences pushed the Panama trial and used the latter to target not only Nawaz Sharif but also his family members – including Nawaz's daughter Maryam. There are enough questions suggesting that the trial, especially the Special Investigation Team that undertook the inquiry had a mandate to fix Nawaz. And they did; Nawaz was disqualified.
Clearly, the Establishment wants Nawaz to go. He is not willing to; instead, he got re-elected as the Party President in a hurry. Earlier, the NA-120 elected Nawaz’s wife Kulsoom, which fell vacant after the former’s disqualification. Both didn’t go well within the party. Nawaz could have asked someone else from the party to contest; Kulsoom was ill, and could not even campaign. Though she had won the seat, the PML-N polled fewer votes than the previous election. Clearly, the PML-N voters are not happy.
Nawaz’s statements on getting re-elected as the Party President early this month were like a war cry. Both the Establishment and the judiciary were targeted directly and indirectly. The PML-N leaders are now concerned. While they may have respect and sympathies for Nawaz, they are against taking on the Establishment. Any confrontation with the Establishment will not only pull down Nawaz, but also the entire party. Facing the elections in 2018, the PML-N leaders would like to avoid it.
Meanwhile, the Good Brother – Shahbaz Sharif, has been lying low. Obviously, he will not give up his brother easily, but he will also be apprehensive of Nawaz taking the party down with him. The statement by Riaz Hussain Pirzada, Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination a few days ago – criticizing the re-election and suggesting that Shahbaz should take over the party – has a larger appeal within the party.
For the party leaders, the survival of the party is important; Shahbaz has a better equation with the Establishment and will keep the party united. Both are important, if the PML-N has to survive the 2018 elections. Imran Khan may not be their worry, but the Establishment would be.
The meeting of Maryam Nawaz with Shahbaz and his son – Hamza, a few days ago has assumed importance in this context. Though the former has dismissed as a casual meeting with her Uncle and Cousin, outsiders don’t see that way. Nawaz is propping up his daughter – to take over the party, and perhaps project her as a Prime Minister candidate. The party members have already hinted their preference over Shahbaz. Maryam has been indicted in few other cases and one is not sure of the verdict.
Shahbaz has not made any statement so far. He has remained a "Good Brother" for the Establishment, and also for Nawaz. But, will he remain good to the "Bad Brother"? Will Nawaz see the writing on the wall? Or, will he take the party down? Or, will he hand over to Shahbaz now and fight another day?