In a calculated move, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems to have acquired a more assertive and politically active role for himself in an effort to dispel an “air of uncertainty” surrounding the fate of the Sharif family’s future once a crucial verdict in the Panamagate case is out.
In this regard, Sharif is set to fly to different parts of the country and hold public gatherings, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, where he is expected to announce populist ventures including development projects and welfare initiatives, as pressure mounts on the ruling party’s leadership in the run-up to the Supreme Court ruling in the mega corruption case.
Sources reading political developments on the related front believe the populist initiatives in the pipeline are directly linked to the hype attached with the Panama leaks case, and the PML-N leadership is making desperate efforts to defuse the pressure.
“Offence is the best defence,” a PML-N leader said of the premier’s policy. “In a situation like this, passivity cannot be the guiding principle.”
In a move to show that the premier was very much in the saddle, the PML-N’s parliamentary party put weight behind its top leader in Tuesday’s meeting and rejected the option of in-house change. The move had much to do with the reports doing the rounds that the prime minister could step down and designate anyone as his replacement till he came clean in the Panamagate.
“I’ll be around and I am not going anywhere,” was the sole message of the PM from the platform of parliamentary party, according to the source. The premier also directed the party’s different tiers to speed up a mass mobilisation campaign in their respective constituencies and enhance public interaction through corner meetings, public gatherings and other forms of political meet-ups.
Interestingly, PML-N leaders are clueless about the ‘revelation’ attributed to the PM during the parliamentary party meeting that Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf offered him a political deal in 2007, that Sharif presumably rejected, and which had made headlines in the media.
At least five senior PML-N leaders The Express Tribune spoke to, including the PM’s trusted aides, denied that the premier made any such disclosure. The ‘revelation’, the sources said, was purposely ‘fed’ to the media by the PM’s personal staff members in order to convey the message to the powers that be: that the PM was not one who would make a backdoor deal as an excuse to flee the country whatever the circumstances.
Recently, in another related development, the PM ordered the reopening of the Pak-Afghan border, something that also aimed at exerting his authority. Well-placed official sources said the reopening of the border ahead of Pakistan Day, when the security threats remained maximum, raised eyebrows and it did not go down well with the security brass which was in favour of reopening the border either in the first week of April or after March 23. The PM’s decision regarding the border reopening, in disregard to intelligence alerts appeared more a politically-motivated decision to project an impression that he was “in charge”, it is learnt.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, PM’s Adviser Engineer Amir Muqam said the Panamagate scandal was being blown out of proportions. “When the PM has already made it clear that he would accept the SC decision in letter and spirit, then there is no room for speculation.”
Asked if the PM made any ‘disclosure’ regarding Musharraf offering him a deal, the adviser said, “Not to my knowledge. Well, I can’t recall if anything like this surfaced. I have no memory of this.”
The parliamentary party meeting was chaired by the PM to take stock of the problems PML-N parliamentarians were facing in their respective constituencies and ordered immediate redressal of their grievances, Muqam said.
The PM would be visiting different parts of the country as part of the PML-N’s mass mobilisation campaign, he confirmed. “We are into this mass mobilisation and public interaction throughout the year. That’s how PML-N works. This has nothing to do with the Panamagate.”
On the border reopening ahead of March 23, the adviser refused to comment. “I am not much updated on this issue, so I can’t say what reasons led to the reopening of the border before Pakistan Day.”
Political analyst Kanwar Dilshad said the PM’s aggressive policy can be dubbed ‘domestic brinkmanship’. “The existing situation where there’re question marks over the PM and his family’s political survival — it’s like domestic brinkmanship between different power centres. In such an arrangement, one power centre plays it aggressive so as not to let the others take an advantage. Nevertheless, this shows the extent of desperation, concern and fear the ruling camp is locked in, in the context of the Panama leaks scandal,” he told The Express Tribune.