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Friday, 7 July, 2000, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
Muslim League: Signs of rift
Kulsoom Nawaz with supporters
Sharif loyalists are rallying behind his wife (centre)
By Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad

Signs of differences within the Pakistan Muslim League began emerging immediately after Nawaz Sharif was thrown out of power by a military coup last October.

A vocal group of senior party members began to blame their leader for the crisis, and during Mr Sharif's trial on charges of hijacking and terrorism, demands were raised to nominate an acting president.

Until two months ago, this demand was rejected by the party's central executive committee.

However, splits within the party have continued and in the last few weeks the gulf between those groups supporting and opposing Mr Sharif's leadership has widened.

Anti-Sharif camp

Those who want Mr Sharif to remain as the party president are rallying behind his wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, who has perhaps been the only outspoken critic of the present military administration.

PML supporters
Support for the former premier is split
The anti-Sharif camp is being led by senior party members like Fakhr Imam and Mian Azhar, who want the party to elect a new leader.

And in between these two groups is the third, and perhaps largest, group which is headed by former minister Raja Zafarul Haq.

This group still regards Mr Sharif as their leader but also believes in negotiating with the military authorities.

Factions
Pro-Sharif
Kulsoom Nawaz

Anti-Sharif
Fakhr Imam
Mian Azhar

Neutral
Raja Zafarul Haq
Last week, Mr Zafarul Haq held a meeting with the military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, which angered those party members in the pro-Sharif camp.

Mr Haq denied he had betrayed the party chief.

Instead, he went to see Mr Sharif - during his current corruption trial at the Attock Fort - to explain his point of view.

Portentous signs

But this seems to have done little to satisfy Kulsoom Nawaz, who has continued with her protest campaign.

Nawaz Sharif
Party could split if Sharif is indicted
Mr Zafarul Haq and his colleagues still maintain the best way to save the party, and its leader, is by trying to work out a negotiated settlement with the military government.

But in the present situation this would mean a Muslim League without Nawaz Sharif - something that is not acceptable to Mr Sharif's wife and the rest of their family.

So far all the groups within the party have avoided a situation where it may formally split.

But many analysts believe this situation cannot be sustained for long.

They say if Mr Sharif is found guilty on other charges, and without a great deal of support for his wife's group, there is every possibility of a formal split in the party in the weeks to come.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sharif denies party rift
03 Jul 00 | South Asia
Musharraf meets Sharif party leader
20 Oct 99 | South Asia
Sharif's party in disarray
14 Oct 99 | South Asia
Mixed signals from Sharif's party
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