Like every political party the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has divisions, frictions and groupings since its inception. The party’s birth was also the outcome of political differences when Nawaz Sharif parted ways with Pakistan Muslim League to form his own faction PML-N in 1988. Nawaz Sharif emerged as a big leader from Punjab to challenge the Pakistan People’s Party and became prime minister for three non-consecutive terms.\
In 1997, the decision to make Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, as the chief minister created a stir in the party as Chaudhry Pervez Elahi was also vying for the most coveted slot of the Punjab province. His hopes were dashed. However, he was made Speaker of Punjab Assembly. The senior party leaders had objections to the nomination of Shahbaz Sharif. Many believe the very decision was made within the Sharif family without consulting the senior leadership of the party while some claim Nawaz Sharif was opposed to the idea. But he had to submit to the will of their father Mian Sharif.
Soon after Shahbaz Sharif was made the chief minister rumours of rifts started to circulate that the two brothers were not getting along on key issues of governance in the province. After the Musharraf takeover the party was divided into two major groups. The estranged leaders gathered under the umbrella of Chaudhrys and formed Pakistan Muslim League – Q. However, despite reservations the Sharif family remained intact.
By now the party is divided into hawks and doves. After the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, the appeasement group led by Shahbaz Sharif drew clear lines. Shahbaz did not want direct confrontation with the establishment while the hawks wanted to go head to head with the judiciary and the establishment.
The second test was the bye-election of late Kalsoom Nawaz on the seat got vacated after Nawaz Sharif was disqualified. Hamza Shahbaz was sent on a ‘forced leave’ to spend some time out of country. The bye-election witnessed a visible divide. The Hamza-backed local leaders and workers tried to stay away from the corner meetings during the campaign while Maryam Nawaz was launched to muster support for her mother to win the election of his political start. She remained successful despite the most of the active party workers did not show traditional enthusiasm for the new leader. That very election victory helped Maryam to become the promising politician to fill the vacuum in his father’s absence. The gap is widening ever since.
Although the family and the groups claim they are united under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif, they have two different clear stances to move on. The hawks have refused to budge on confronting the military establishment for their interference in the politics whereas the appeasement group wants the party to get along with institutions.
And then it was Gujranwala jalsa and the speech of Nawaz Sharif. The Gujranwala public gathering was being arranged as just another political jalsa of the 11-party alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement. All the speeches went well hitting out at the ruling Pakistan Tehrik Insaaf (PTI) for its worst governance and institutions on the back of it. It was like a bolt out of the blue when Nawaz Sharif took to naming the powers-that-be responsible for his ouster from power. Nobody had an iota of thought that it is going to be a political bombshell. For many, it was the biggest shock of their political life in a state of Pakistan where military has been in control for over six decades directly or indirectly.
“We have been pushed into an extremely uncomfortable situation,” remarked a local leader of the party.
During the countrywide anti-government political rallies of the PDM, Maryam remained on the forefront and had vowed to pull huge crowds in the Lahore’s public meeting at Minar-e-Pakistan. But, she failed. And she blames the appeasement group for all the mismanagement. This gave rise to the speculations of infighting in the party a bit further.
After launching scathing attacks on the PPP leadership for their ‘clever’ political moves in the middle of anti-government campaign Maryam Nawaz is silent again while the 11-party alliance PDM is crumbling. Now Hamza Shahbaz is out of jail while the party hopes Shahbaz Sharif will be freed sooner or later to lead. Rumours are ripe that behind the door contacts with the appeasement group have worked. New lines are being drawn within the party keeping in view the designs of rival political groups who are out to grab the opportunity.