Cracks are beginning to show in Pakistan’s ruling party after a recent damning corruption related investigation report against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s immediate family created panic within the party’s ranks. The recently reported intense factional infighting among the prime minister’s cabinet due to a number of policy differences over the issue of the Panama Papers corruption probe has brought renewed attention to a longstanding debate concerning divisions within the party from.
Reportedly, two major groups have emerged within the party: One group is led by Sharif and the other by his younger brother, Shahbaz, who is the chief minister of Punjab province. Historically, the faction that is favored by Shahbaz has remained on good terms with the military establishment. The current interior minister of the country, Nisar Ali Khan, also belongs to the group that has had good relations with the military. In fact, it has long been established that the current interior minister and the chief minister of Punjab have always played a pertinent role when it comes to Sharif’s long history of confrontation with the military.
Moreover, the crisis within the party has deepened of late due to Shahbaz and Nisar’s disagreement with the way Sharif has handled the Panama Papers corruption scandal. Over the last few months, the ruling party has openly confronted its political rivals, which has not only united the political opposition, but has also kept the ongoing political debate focused on the issue of alleged widespread corruption within the ruling party.
Reportedly, the interior minister, during a recent cabinet meeting, told Sharif that “only a miracle can save you.” The closed-door meeting, the details of which have been leaked all over the media, is also being noted for Nisar’s confrontation with Sharif over the former’s exclusion from recent meetings called by the prime minister regarding the future course of the party. It’s likely that in the coming days, Nisar may resign from the interior ministry and the party altogether.
The serious nature of the rift within the ruling party has also extended to the issue of Sharif’s successor in case the country’s top court, which is due to announce the final verdict of the Panama papers case in the next few days, disqualifies him from office. Differences in this regard deal with Sharif’s likely choice of his successor, which has been contested by the Shahbaz faction to the extent that the interior minister has threatened to resign if his seniority level was disregarded before making any choice.
The divisions within the inner circle of the ruling party have surfaced at a time when Sharif is facing a host political, legal, and even constitutional challenges. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) appears firm in its efforts to create an environment that can accelerate the ruling party’s implosion. Khan, who has openly welcomed deserters from other political parties, is trying to placate the ruling party’s lawmakers to further intensify the divisions. A report on Wednesday claimed that Khan’s PTI wants Nisar to replace Sharif as the next prime minister of Pakistan.
The only possibility of Khan coming to power at the federal level emerges from the scenario in which Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League implodes from within and loses its winnable candidates to other political parties, particularly the PTI.
Certainly, perceptions are hugely important in politics and the ongoing negative debate related to frequent scuffles inside the ruling party is going to force many opportunistic lawmakers into changing political loyalties in Pakistan. If the court disqualifies Sharif from his office, then splits in the ruling party are going to further widen and deepen.
The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, thus, appears to be on a self-destructive course and may disintegrate even before the next general elections.