LAHORE: A number of PML-N leaders in Punjab believe that Nawaz Sharif has ‘smartly deprived’ his younger brother of an opportunity to become prime minister in this tenure of the party and at the same time shattered the dreams of his nephew (Hamza) to take up the reins in Punjab.

According to them, Shahabaz has missed or made to miss a “golden opportunity” to succeed his elder brother as there is no guarantee he will make it to Islamabad to don the premier’s cap in 2018 in case the PML-N wins the election as more players from the elder Sharif family may be in the race for the top slot.

Nawaz’s wife Kalsoom may be there if his daughter, Maryam, gets entangled in the accountability process till 2018 election, they say.

“There will certainly be many a slip between cup and lip (prime ministership) for Shahabaz in 2018. He has either failed to convince his elder brother or the latter played smart politics to keep him in Punjab,” a PML-N leader who is close to Shahbaz told Dawn on Friday.

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“Perhaps Shahbaz missed the golden chance of becoming premier. Who knows about 2018 election’s outcome and family politics then,” he adds.

Another leader said: “Nawaz played excellent family politics. First he announced Shahbaz his successor. Later a campaign within the PML-N was built that Shahbaz’s absence from Punjab would be disastrous for the party.”

According to him, Shahbaz had tried his best to convince Nawaz not to worry about Punjab and leave it to his son (Hamza). To consolidate his case, Shahbaz managed to send a request to him (Nawaz) from more than 300 PML-N MPAs from Punjab, endorsing father in the centre and son in Punjab.

“Once the decision was conveyed to Shahbaz, he asked his confidant Rana Sanaullah to tell the media that how most party members wanted him in Punjab. It was only a face saving for Shahbaz.”

A federal minister told Dawn that the decision to ‘retain’ Shahbaz had been finalised. “The extended cabinet of Mr Abbasi is a proof of it,” he said, adding the current arrangement suited the leadership as Nawaz Sharif would see matters in the Centre and Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab.

A mere “official” announcement is left from the PML-N about withdrawing Shahbaz from the NA-120 race. Nawaz had announced after his disqualification by the Supreme Court that his younger brother would be prime minister after an interim arrangement of 45 days for which Mr Abbasi was selected.

Some federal ministers including Khawaja Asif and Khurram Dastgir have already confirmed that the party wants Shahbaz in Punjab which is a stronghold of PML-N. “Since Shahbaz has good equation with all MPAs in Punjab and all ongoing development projects are on his finger tips, a larger section of the party is of the view that he should continue delivering in Punjab,” Dastgir told a private TV channel.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said: “The decision that Shahbaz Sharif will continue serving in Punjab is almost certain.”

Punjab government spokesman Malik Ahmad Khan told Dawn on Friday that the parliamentary party headed by Nawaz Sharif was authorised to announce reversal of its earlier decision (to nominate Shahbaz for prime minister’s slot).

Mr Khan however denied any differences in the Sharif brothers saying the crisis had even further united them and Shahbaz would follow his elder brother’s instructions.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2017