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Saturday May 11 2019

Shehbaz Sharif – a man without a choice

Shehbaz Sharif was removed as the chief of the PML-N's parliamentary party and as chairman of PAC. Photo: File 

There are resignations, and then there are forced resignations.

But I’ll come to that in a bit.

First, let’s go back to August, when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came to power, dealing a shocking defeat to its rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), in Punjab, it's home turf.

Soon after, murmurs of a split, within the party’s core, gained pitch. Two narratives emerged. The hawks lined up in one corner of the room, while the “doves”, as they called themselves, in another. And those who couldn’t reconcile with the labels began to reach out to the new ruling party for accommodation.

Within the PML-N, the lines were now drawn, although there were no overt attempts to impose one narrative over the other. But that was then. Come April, that all changed.

This month, Shehbaz Sharif, the former chief minister of Punjab and the president of the PML-N, was removed - yes removed - from the parliamentary committee of the party. Later, he was also asked to step down as chairman of the much-coveted Public Account Committee (PAC), a post his party had fought vigorously to gain for him when the PTI resisted.

Sharif’s expulsion sent shockwaves within the party. Even, for the former chief minister, it was a bolt out of nowhere.

While the decision was made by his elder brother, Nawaz Sharif, it was instead conveyed to him by another PML-N party leader, Attaullah Tarar. Interestingly, Tarar, the grandson of the former president Rafiq Tarar, worked under Shehbaz Sharif after the 2013 election, and later his son, Hamza Shehbaz, as his secretary.

Insiders say that Shehbaz was never consulted on the matter. In fact, Tarar told him he was being asked to step down due to his long absence and non-availability, which was affecting his role as a parliamentary leader and the chairman of PAC.

Those privy to the development say Shehbaz accepted the decision without protest, in order to avoid any revolt within the party.

The next day, the PML-N announced a revamp in its ranks, appointing Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, and Hamza Shehbaz, amongst others, as vice presidents. While Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was named the senior vice president. The rest of the changes are only cosmetic. The only real change is that now Sharif’s daughter is at the helm of party affairs.

Separately, talks of a deal and relief for the Sharif brothers is also in the air. A businessman, Nasir Janjua, and the former aviation advisor, Shujaat Azeem, have been tasked to reach out to the non-political decision-makers. But so far a deal has not been struck.

As of now, Shehbaz Sharif is in London for treatment. He is still deciding on the right date to return to Pakistan to face the court cases against him. The last thing he wants is for the courts to declare him an absconder and put his name on the Exit Control List. He is also keen on attending the parliamentary session on the budget.

While, it is certain that Sharif will return, but what he returns to, remains uncertain. 

Ansari is the bureau chief of Geo News in Lahore

Note: The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.