Sharif wants PML-N to go tough on protesters

Sharif wants PML-N to go tough on protesters

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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership on Wednesday decided to ‘tame’ the elements in its ranks that have sympathies with the religious group staging a sit-in to press for the resignation of a federal minister over the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat clause controversy.

In this connection, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has barred party leaders from publically expressing sympathies with the protesters and making any statements in their favour, according to insiders.

The decision was taken after Sharif took stock of a recent statement from his son-in-law, Captain (retd) Safdar, saying he would ‘participate in the sit-in if invited’.

It is also learnt that the Sharif is not happy about PML-N lawmakers not showing up in full strength at the National Assembly session on November 21 to vote against the opposition’s bill seeking to prevent a disqualified person from heading a political party. The government, however, still managed to defeat the bill.

Soon after his appearance at the accountability court on Wednesday, Sharif held consultative sessions with the party’s top leadership, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq and Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousaf.

Sources said that Sharif categorically shared his reservations about some of the party leaders sympathising with the religious group demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over the change in the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat clause in the Election Bill, 2017.

Reportedly, the former premier was also displeased about the several rounds of negotiations going futile and the fact that the religious group’s leadership was not ready to budge on their demands, particularly the resignation of the law minister.

Sharif is learnt to have directed party leaders to toughen their stance against the sit-in and consider a ‘Plan B’ to get the protest site cleared ahead of Eid Milad-un-Nabi if talks fail to yield results.

Eid Milad-un-Nabi falls on December 1, a Friday, and the government fears that the number of people will swell at the protest site.

In order to disperse the protesters, the government is considering the option of ‘calculated force’, which would entail using water cannons, baton charges and tear gas against the protesters, instead of weapons, it is also learnt.

Safdar and other leaders including Zafarul Haq, Sardar Yousaf and State Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnat are opposed to the use of force and want to continue negotiations – something that has not gone down well with PML-N’s top leadership, according to the sources.

A PML-N senator said Sharif and other top party leadership including Abbasi were of the view that the protest also entailed political dimensions. Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, the protesting group, contested the recent by-elections in NA-120 Lahore and NA-4 Peshawar, and “this is all about seeking popularity and cashing in on sympathy before the general elections,” he said.

Reportedly, Sharif, Abbasi, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and senior leadership of the PML-N Punjab chapter are in favour of ground action in case the protesters are not willing to abandon their demands.

However, some of the PML-N leaders are opposed to use of force against the protesters, fearing that such steps could lead to something like the Model Town tragedy.

In addition during the Wednesday’s meeting, the PML-N chief also shared his concerns about only 163 lawmakers voting at the National Assembly on Tuesday to reject the Pakistan Peoples Party’s bill aimed at preventing Sharif from heading his party.

PML-N’s support in the lower house — which includes their own lawmakers, their allies, other ‘likeminded’ parties and independent lawmakers — comes to around 240 members, of a total of 342.

A senior PML-N leader said the party leadership was expecting over 220 votes for rejecting the PPP bill and was shocked to see only 163 votes from the ruling camp, especially since the party’s strength at the National Assembly comes to 188 members.

Sharif is said to have directed the leaders to mobilise internal party support and reach out to dissident elements so that the party remains united ahead of the general elections.

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