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Defiant but Divided

by Newsweek Pakistan

Arif Ali—AFP

The PMLN appears ready to take on all comers—but with some holdouts within the party

Against the advice of some quarters of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), erstwhile prime minister Nawaz Sharif struck a defiant note while addressing a general council meeting of the political party on Oct. 3. In veiled terms, he blamed the Army for the upheaval facing his government and for the unrest the country has faced in the past 70 years. A day earlier, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, also of the PMLN, saw another message coming his way when his authority was challenged by the paramilitary Rangers who moved, without orders, to “secure” the accountability court in Islamabad hearing cases against the serving finance minister, Ishaq Dar. Therefore, one can’t say the messages of defiance flying around these days are one-sided.

The same day as Sharif addressed his party bigwigs, the “other party” led by Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa held a seven-hour long corps commanders’ meeting at the GHQ to discuss national security but ended up, significantly, issuing no official statement about what was discussed; which was read as an ominous development by observers. At the PMLN gathering the defiance of the ex-prime minister was significantly blunted by his brother Shahbaz Sharif’s “humble” plea that he moderate his criticism of the Army and not listen to the party opportunists who had misled him into rebellion. That the younger Sharif attended the meeting points to a persistence of discord but not without an element of agreement over how to proceed in the coming days of the developing national crisis.

More trouble lies ahead in the shape of a clash with the judiciary. Sharif got re-elected as party president after his MNAs and allies ensured passage of an amended Elections Bill 2017 in the National Assembly, thus changing the ruling that a prime minister dismissed as member of the National Assembly could not lead his party. The irony that the PMLN had to change the party constitution to re-elect him was not missed. Needless to say, the opposition in Parliament has decided to get the constitutional amendment annulled at the Supreme Court. No matter how the party high command wants the new development interpreted, no one has failed to sense the big crack in its middle. Pakistan has entered another moment of crisis in its ongoing journey of uncertainty while surrounded by trouble on its borders.

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