A day after retreating to his favourite hill station hideaway, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held two key meetings with top ministers in the cosy confines of his Murree residence on Tuesday. The National Action Plan against terrorism and extremism, as well as the energy crisis, came under discussion. But the import of the huddle was not revealed in a four-paragraph official statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Attended by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the meeting reportedly dealt with a number of thorny issues and saw some animated discussion around the fate of certain members of the federal cabinet. According to the official statement, “the Punjab chief minister apprised the prime minister of the progress made by the province in implementing NAP. The PM said the government [was] committed to eradicating terrorism and extremism from the country and asked other provinces to speed up the process of implementation.” But the meeting’s agenda was far more important than the sardonic press release betrayed. Sources in the ruling party told Dawn that the Shahbaz-Nisar duo – whose power and influence within PML-N circles is the stuff of legend – came down pretty hard on the two ministers who have widely been held responsible for embarrassing the government with their mishandling of the fuel and power crises.
In an off-the-record conversation, a PML-N office-bearer told Dawn that the two warned the PM of “a severe backlash if the performance of the two ministers remains the same”. Despite being extremely close to the leadership, both ministers – Khawaja Asif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi – were not invited to this all-important discussion. “Due to the unusual nature of the meeting, it was restricted to four participants only,” said the PML-N source, adding that officials from the interior and finance ministries joined the sitting when later it picked up its routine agenda. Both Chaudhry Nisar and Shahbaz Sharif reportedly told the premier that he should show the door to anyone who wasn’t performing and should let other party members step up. Mr Sharif had already completed a performance audit of the federal cabinet and was currently considering a reshuffle, the source said.
A DIVIDED HOUSE: A sitting PML-N lawmaker, however, lamented that the federal cabinet was divided into various groups, which was causing problems for the prime minister. The source recalled that Khawaja Asif wasn’t too happy with constant interference from the Punjab CM in his ministry. Since October last year, when Mr Asif complained to the PM against his younger brother’s role in the overbilling crisis, the latter had withdrawn from electricity-related projects. The interior minister’s unhappiness with the cabinet’s decision-making also made headlines in June last year, when he stopped coming to cabinet meetings and National Assembly sessions.