The beleaguered prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, is believed to have decided to step down after a judicial probe found him guilty of amassing wealth incommensurate with his declared sources of income, sources in his party have told Asia Times.
According to insiders, the question is now not if but when Sharif will resign. Some within the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) are urging him to stay in office at least until the Supreme Court gives its verdict on the findings contained in a report from a Joint Investigation Team (JIT). The JIT comprises individuals from various civilian and military institutions and the Supreme Court will hear arguments on its findings on Monday.
Besides the timing of his departure, Asia Times’ sources say, talk has also turned to who will fill Sharif’s shoes.
There has been little consensus within the party about how to proceed. One influential group – comprising various federal ministers, advisors and state ministers – has advocated pursuing a confrontational strategy against the judiciary and establishment in anticipation of the apex court giving a negative verdict against the party’s leadership. Some, likely fearing for their own survival, have already mounted attacks against the judiciary.
On the matter of confrontation with the judiciary, the party is deeply split, however. A group led by Punjab’s chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, who is the prime minister’s younger brother, and Choudhry Nisar, the country’s Interior Minister, want to fight a legal battle within the parameters of the law and constitution and have asked the prime minister to resign. Sources say he has been persuaded to take this path and will tender his resignation in due course.
The group opposed to his resignation have proposed obtaining a vote of confidence in Sharif from Parliament. They have counseled him to take a tough line with the opposition and to continue alleging that there is a “conspiracy” at work.
The role of Shahbaz is somehow dubious. Although he did not feature in the JIT report, he may yet be indicted if the court orders a re-opening of Habaidya Paper Mills money laundering case. Sources told Asia Times he is balancing his own interests with those of his elder brother. It is intriguing that neither he nor his son, Hamza Shahbaz, have been in attendance at any of the press conferences arranged by Nawaz loyalists to challenge the “agenda” of the judiciary and establishment and warn of consequences if the premier is ousted.
A spokesperson for the Punjab government, Malik Ahmad Khan, rubbished any suggestion of Shahbaz Sharif distancing himself from his brother in the wake of the JIT’s report. “There is also no truth in the impression that the chief minister is not defending his brother openly. The Sharif family is fighting the case and will emerge victoriously,” he said.
Some insiders believe that another reason Shahbaz and his colleagues have counseled the prime minister to resign is that the former would be a contender to succeed his brother. Some said Shahbaz would have little support in the party, however – primarily, according to one insider, “because the leadership does not trust him for the top slot without Nawaz there.” Other possible candidates are Choudhry Nisar and Raja Muhammad Zafar Ul Haq, PML(N) chairman and senator from Kahuta who was once an “opening batsman” for the military dictator Ziaul Haq. Sources said Nisar’s chances were slim as the party leadership disapproved of his “rapport” with Imran Khan, chairman of the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI).
All opposition parties, excluding allies of PML(N), have demanded Sharif step down. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and PTI have even announced they will not sit in Parliament until the prime minister goes. His clinging to power is starting to look less and less tenable and more and more injurious to Pakistan’s stability.