Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was deposed in September 2017 by the Supreme Court for not being a good Muslim under Article 63 of the constitution. His party thought the army had planned the dismissal from behind the scenes. But it was divided over its next move. Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada, an anti-Nawaz rebel in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) said Nawaz shouldn’t have become leader of the party again after being disqualified as prime minister.
Pirzada’s statement placed him squarely in the growing PMLN club wanting the party to not take on “the institutions” — in other words, the army. His view also tallies with that of Hamza, the son of Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s younger brother who rules Punjab. One thought Nawaz had changed his mind when his daughter Maryam Nawaz called on her “uncle” and said all was well. Was he now embracing 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 told the press: “The moderate section in the party does not want confrontation with the institutions and wants the system to work.” He followed this with words that explained what “pragmatic” means to 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 seems to be aiming at martyrdom. He got the sack as prime minister three times and has borne the brunt of what accompanies dethronement in Pakistan, including not caring for the political nurture of his sons. That he has become hardened is beyond question; his convictions have been 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 setbacks that visited Nawaz’s two boys. His sons Hamza and Suleman are more politically presentable than Nawaz’s two sons, Hassan and Hussain. There is little chance of Nawaz’s side of the Sharif holding power in Pakistan, unless Maryam is chosen as his successor in much the same way as Benazir had succeeded Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
After a two-month cutoff, the Sharif clan finally decided to get back together and save the party from scattering. Maryam called on “uncle” Shahbaz Sharif for “a cup of tea” and was photographed sitting next to Hamza Shahbaz while he expounded on the wisdom of not taking on the “institutions”. Two months earlier, Hamza had not campaigned for the NA-120 seat contested by his aunt, Kulsoom Nawaz, and had fled abroad as Maryam proceeded to turn the campaign into a diatribe against the “powers that be”.
Most people think Nawaz should back off from rebellion after checking the pulse of his party. Defiance has not paid off for the government of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi; the ministers who began by bucking the establishment are now singing the much softer tune of “being on the same page” with you-know-who against America. Maryam’s aggression during the NA-120 campaign was regarded critically by party leaders standing behind the elder brother while his tiff with his younger sibling was developing.
For some strange reason, like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nawaz wants to fight. With corruption trials ongoing against the Sharif clan, the prospects of a rebellion are not bright. The opposition, far from lending a hand, is working in tandem with the negative forces to make the PMLN splinter in its bastion of Punjab. It appears that the pro-Nawaz veterans are inclined in favour of realism and have advised him to trim his sail to the winds blowing against the party.
Kamal Azfar, a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) intellectual who was in the circle of close advisers to “martyred” Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the PPP’s finance minister of Sindh and governor of Sindh when the leader was alive. An MA (Oxford) and Barrister of The Inner Temple, he was research assistant to Nobel Prize winner Gunnar Myrdal on his magnum opus Asian Drama 1960-63. Currently a senior advocate at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Azfar in his book Waters of Lahore (2013) describes a remarkably similar crossroads in the history of Pakistan when, after Bhutto’s removal from prime ministership and subsequent imprisonment, his party was divided over the course of action.
Begum Bhutto who succeeded Bhutto as party head wanted to fight General Zia and even got some weapons smuggled into Pakistan for street fights. She was opposed by the realists in the party who clearly foresaw Bhutto being killed by a general scared of the deposed PM’s ability to push back. Like Sharif’s daughter Maryam, the Bhutto family was miffed with partymen recommending flexibility and acceptance. Bhutto, like Nawaz Sharif, wanted to fight. The last meeting between General Zia and Bhutto was ominous. Zia asked what he would want him to do. Bhutto replied: “Just hold the elections as you have promised and take the army back to the barracks. Heads will of course roll as your coup amounts to treason and the punishment for that is death under Article 6 of the Constitution.”