Sharifs vs. Sharifs

Sharifs vs. Sharifs

The Sharif brothers have, so far, stood by each other in all the ups and downs of their political careers. Shahbaz refused to ditch his elder brother, Nawaz, even when some grand and solid offers were made to him a couple of times. But generation next of the Sharif family has now drawn visible battle lines, putting the future of the former ruling party in the doldrums. Yes, the House of Ittefaq is no longer united, as it once used to be. 

“It is a natural phenomenon,” remarked a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) source, who has access to both branches of the Sharif family. “First cousins cannot stay united as real brothers and sisters often do. We have seen some leading business families losing their empires because of the infighting among first cousins. In politics, the power tussle is more brutal and ruthless and could even pit a son against his father, and a brother against a brother,” he says.

As the two scions of the Sharif family —Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz — are openly contradicting each other over the party-line, many of the first and second tier PML-N leaders now find themselves in a tight spot and face difficulty in representing and defending the party.

According to another PML-N leader, there are some who openly represent this or that faction within the party, but many of the old guard are getting more and more uncomfortable with the situation. “We have communicated this to both brothers, but the impasse continues.”

Both insiders maintain that the tussle is fundamentally not because of a difference of opinion over the party narrative, but over who is going to lead the PML-N and bid for the prime ministership – if it comes their way again, in some near or distant future.

hamza maryam edited | Zeroing IN from Narratives Magazine

“Do we not know Nawaz Sharif… can he really turn over a new leaf and become ideological all of a sudden?” quips the first source. “If today, Shahbaz and family take a stand against the military, the very next day Nawaz and his daughter would probably become pro-establishment… it is purely a power tussle between the two branches of the Sharif family.”

However, this does not mean that a formal split in the party is just around the corner. That could take time, as Shahbaz is well aware that the popular vote remains with Nawaz and Maryam; therefore, he would try his best to enter the 2023 general elections with a united PML-N. But the task appears easier said than done.

Even if the party stays united, the lack of trust and the infighting between the next generation of the Sharifs is hurting the PML-N’s performance as the biggest opposition party.

“Our first and second tier leadership stands confused,” admits the first source. “We could have really shaken up the government if the party was united, given all the God-sent opportunities and PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf)’s own performance … from weak governance to mismanagement of the economy, rising inflation etc.…,” he added. “But the party is not able to function in cohesion and as a well-oiled machine.”

Another factor that has increased frustration among the PML-N rank-and-file is the fact that, despite his best efforts, Nawaz has failed to break the deadlock with the military establishment for himself or his daughter Maryam, says a PML-N sources. “Nawaz Sharif and Maryam have tried everything… from staying quiet for weeks and months to brinkmanship, but the door of the military establishment has remained closed on them,” he shares. “Shahbaz, with his moderate views, appears as the best option, provided he manages the corruption cases filed against him in the local courts.”

But the problem with Shahbaz and his son Hamza is that they both lack charisma and remain unable to electrify party supporters and workers.

Consequently, the PML-N is struggling under the weight of its first family and their infighting, which is benefitting the government.

The coming weeks will be crucial for determining the future of the PML-N. Nawaz Sharif is sticking to his anti-army rhetoric in an attempt to create political space for himself, though this line is making many electable candidates within the party uncomfortable. They fear losing ground in their bastion of power in Punjab, especially central Punjab, where every second house has a serving or retired army personnel in the family.

In their view, Shahbaz can save the day for the party — if only he is allowed to do so…

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