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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK

World: South Asia

Sharif's party in disarray

Soldiers guard Nawaz Sharif's Lahore home

By Zafar Abbas in Islamabad

As soon as the military seized power last week, the deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz were immediately taken into custody.

Pakistan in crisis
Since then, their whereabouts are not known, but it is widely believed that they are being kept in detention at an army guest house somewhere in the city of Rawalpindi.

[ image: Senior Minister Mushahid Hussein is still under arrest]
Senior Minister Mushahid Hussein is still under arrest
Most members of Mr Sharif's cabinet were also detained along with several senior officials. But many people have since been released and only a few senior ministers, like the finance minister Ishaq Dar and the information minister Mushahid Hussain, are still under house arrest.

Despite the time lapse since the dismissal of Mr Sharif's government, there has still been no policy statement from the Pakistan Muslim League.

Senior party leaders - some of whom were never detained - and former ministers have refused to issue a statement against the military take-over.

Some of them contacted by the BBC decline to comment on the matter. They say that it is not the right time to criticise the military-takeover.

Only a few have spoken out against the coup, such as the Punjab MP, Ghulam Dastigir Khan, who issued a statement criticising the army's action.

There have also been a few small-scale demonstrations in Lahore and Karachi.

Party dissent

The fact that the number of PML leaders who have condemned the coup can be counted on fingers has made the military authorities argue - with some justification - that there has been no visible opposition to the take-over.

In fact, a few senior PML leaders have been openly speaking against the policies of the deposed prime minister.

[ image: Few pro-Sharif demonstrations]
Few pro-Sharif demonstrations
At least one, senior vice-president of the party Ejaz ul Haq, has even justified the military take-over. He has been meeting party MPs and other leaders in an attempt to evolve an alternate leadership in the party.

He will no doubt find some sympathy from the man who headed the parliamentary committee on defence, Ghulam Sarwar Cheema, who has issued a critical statement against Mr Sharif.

So too has the former minister, Begum Abida Hussain, who has held the deposed prime minister responsible for the current developments.

Possible party split

So where does all this leave the PML, which in early 1997 was returned to power with the biggest mandate in Pakistan's political history?

Many political observers say the failure of the party to react to the military take-over is because of faults within its very structure.

It was formed in 1985 with the help of the army, who wanted an alternative to Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party.

Since then the party rapidly established its own identity, even contesting and winning elections on its own.

But even now it is largely seen as a group that mostly comprises pro-establishment politicians.

It is primarily for this reason that many of its supporters, who are presently in hiding, do not know how to react in the face of an army action against their government.

Several of them have called the BBC office in Islamabad to inquire if there has been a statement from Mr Sharif or any other senior party leader.

Perhaps the inevitable outcome of all this is a split within the PML between those who support the coup and those who still support Mr Sharif.

However, the precise details of those divisions are not likely to be clear unless or until Mr Sharif is given an opportunity to present his view of events.

Even then, it may take some time to discover the party's exact stand in relation to the coup.

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