Chaudhry Nisar’s latest interview with prominent TV anchor Saleem Safi has provoked a backlash from many PMLN party members. An unusually extensive TV appearance from a politician who generally avoided personalized interviews, over the past few years was a rare gift to Geo TV. Ex-Interior Minister responded to many questions that lurked in public minds, including: the current state of his relationship with his long term political colleague and leader Nawaz Sharif. He minced no words in showing his disapproval of the anti-military rhetoric of Nawaz and those around him. But the comments that irked PMLN stalwarts the most were reserved for Sharif dynasty’s “Heir Apparent”, Maryam Nawaz to whom he referred as a “Child”. (See links to Interview below)
Nisar, once perceived as a pillar of PML-N leadership, has in recent days become a polarizing figure in the party. When asked about his response to those in the party who question his loyalty, Nisar replied that he had proven himself in the toughest of times. He was referring to the difficult period following December 2000, when Nawaz Sharif and his family had suddenly and quietly left Pakistan, after cutting a deal with Gen. Musharraf courtesy House of Saud, without taking party members into confidence. Nisar, had suffered two years under house arrest rather than renouncing Nawaz as his leader.
Nisar stated that he believed Shehbaz Sharif should take the helm of the party. He was of the opinion that Shehbaz is the natural choice for being the President of the PML-N.
Despite having close familial ties to the military and being on friendly terms with General Musharraf, Nisar claimed that he did not give in to their demands even after being offered the post of a minister.
During the same time period, many current PML-N stalwarts chose to jump ship and joined Musharraf government in one or the other capacity. Ch. Shujjat, Pervaiz Illahi, Senator Mushahid Hussain and many others left Nawaz during the same period. Incumbent Finance Minister Ishaq Dar even submitted a confessional statement under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) – a statement that is believed to have renewed the wrath of Sharifs in recent days after the JIT saga.
But Nisar’s pithy comments on dyansty’s “Heir Apparent” Maryam Nawaz have proven to be the most controversial. She has been chosen to lead the fiery campaign for her mother, Kulsum Nawaz, from NA-120. This seat, in control of Nawaz family since the party less elections of 1985, of Zia era, is the safest of PMLN seats. Maryam, daughter of ex-Prime Minister, niece of Chief Minister Punjab, with full support of Punjab government is ostensibly being paraded as a future leader; someone who is going to be Pakistan’s next prime minister, after 2018 elections. But Nisar in his discussion with Salim Safi, on party’s favorite Geo TV, that is supposed to beam only positive news, on both sides of GT road, dismissed “Heir Apparent” as a child saying “Children have no political standing, I cannot accept her as my leader.”
One must also blame Safi for asking a loaded question; for throwing a loose ball. He asked if Maryam could be compared to Benazir Bhutto, Nisar replied: (and most Pakistanis would have agreed) “There can be no comparison between Benazir and Maryam. Benazir campaigned in the field for 10 years after her father’s execution; only then was she accepted as the leader of the PPP.”
He said that he agreed with Nawaz in preserving the sanctity of the vote but was not in favor of the recent confrontational attitude.
Nisar further rubbed on the family’s inner wounds by stating that he believed Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s younger brother and Chief Minister Punjab, should take control of the party. He was of the firm opinion that Shehbaz is the natural choice for being the President of the PML-N – and therefore the next Prime Minister.
Nisar also revealed that the reason behind his bumpy relations with Nawaz, and many others around him, has to do with their differences over party policy.
Condemning the recent anti-army and anti-judiciary rhetoric of several prominent PML-N leaders, Nisar said that he had always warned Nawaz Sharif on adopting a confrontational stance against key national institutions.
He said that he always agreed with Nawaz in preserving the sanctity of the vote but he was never in favor of the recent confrontational attitude adopted by those around him.
“The best way to preserve the sanctity of the vote is good governance,” Nisar said. “There must be a synthesis between the military and civil mindset and that can only be achieved by comprehensively consulting and discussing issues with each other.”
His comments have drawn rebukes from many in the party, “No one should warn Nawaz Sharif of serious consequences for fighting for the rights of the people. Nawaz Sharif will fight the war for the people of Pakistan and he cannot be intimidated,” remarked Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry today, on Monday.
Pakistan’s largest circulation English paper, Dawn reported that other PML-N members have also expressed their disapproval of the interview, with Salim Safi, especially due to its timing when the NA-120 by-election is drawing closer. What will the political effect of this interview on electorate, in Punjabi heartland, remains to be seen.