Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) – PML (N)
The Pakistani Muslim League has its roots in the All-India Muslim League, founded in 1906 to protect the interests of Muslims in British India and to counter the political growth of the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885. Under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Muslim League adopted the Lahore Resolution (often referred to as the “Pakistan Resolution”) in March 1940 and successfully spearheaded the movement for the creation of an independent homeland for Indian Muslims. At the time of Pakistani independence in 1947 the Muslim League was the only major party in Pakistan and claimed the allegiance of almost every Muslim in the country. However, with the deaths of its two principal leaders, Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, shortly after independence and its central goal of creating Pakistan achieved, the party failed to develop a coherent, post-independence ideology. The Muslim League gradually came under the influence of West Pakistani, and particularly Punjabi, landlords and bureaucrats more concerned with increasing their personal influence than with building a strong national organization.
The Muslim League was further weakened by the constitutional impasse in the 1950s resulting from difficulties in resolving questions of regional representation as well as the problem of reaching a consensus on Islamic issues. Regional loyalties were intensified during the constitutional debates over the respective political representation of the country’s west and east wings. In addition, East Pakistan had a larger Hindu population, and some strong provincial leaders believed their power depended on developing broad-based secular institutions. The Muslim League, however, pressed for provisions to establish Pakistan as an Islamic state.
Two powerful Bengali leaders and former Muslim League members, Hussain Shahid Suhrawardy and Fazlul Haq, used their own parties, the Awami League and the Krishak Sramik Party (Workers and Peasants), respectively, in a joint effort in 1954 to defeat the Muslim League in the first election held in East Pakistan after partition. Fazlul Haq had made the motion to adopt the historic “Pakistan Resolution” in 1940, and Suhrawardy, subsequently the last chief minister of undivided Bengal, had seconded it. Both men were alienated by West Pakistani domination of the Muslim League. Suhrawardy was elected leader of the opposition in the second Constituent Assembly and in 1956 was appointed prime minister, a further loss for the Muslim League because he was the first non-Muslim League politician to hold this position. By this time, the Muslim League had lost its influence in both East Pakistan and West Pakistan, having also lost its majority in the West Pakistan Legislative Assembly to the Punjab-centered Republican Party. The promulgation of martial law in 1958 and the dissolution of all political parties finally resulted in the demise of the Muslim League after its fifty-two- year existence.
General Ayub Khan formed a party called the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) in 1962, and Muhammad Khan Junejo established a party with the same name (PML-J) in 1986, but these two parties had little in common with the 1906-58 Muslim League in terms of their objectives and composition. After Junejo died in March 1993, Mian Nawaz Sharif took over the party and it became the Pakistan Muslim League or PML (N) for Nawaz Sharif. The death of Junejo signified the end to an uneasy coalition that had existed between the feudal lobby under Junejo and the representatives of the new industrialist classes who, under the guidance of Nawaz Sharif, were running the Islamic Democratic Alliance (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad–IJI) government of 1990-93.
The PML (N) continued to be led by the Sharif family, despite their exile in Saudi Arabia and the Saudis’ restrictions on their political activities, that effectively cut them out of the 2002 elections. Former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif still approved the list of PML (N) candidates contesting the general elections and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, and father, Mian Muhammad Sharif, still helped determine overall campaign strategy. Nawaz Sharif may have regained some public credibility after recent reports that he turned down a deal with Musharraf, arranged by a close Sharif family friend, newspaper editor Majeed Nizami.
Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s brother, was the party president and the chairman was Raja Zafarul Haq. The PML (N), in light of the military takeover by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, offers a restoration of democracy, and supports returning the Army to the barracks. Most of its appeal is couched in hard language against the betrayal of the leaders now found in PML (Q). Instead of promising an extravagant future for Pakistan, the party points to the achievements of the past. For instance, the party has played the nuclear card by reminding the public that Nawaz Sharif took the “bold decision” of testing a nuclear device in 1998 despite threats from the world powers. The PML (N) had also attacked the constitutional amendments announced by General Musharraf, a bold move considering that Nawaz Sharif also tampered with the Constitution. The party highlighted the government’s “pre-poll rigging” to influence the outcome of the elections.
In August 2007 Nawaz Sharif returned from exile to contest planned elections eventually held in February 2008. The PML (N) emerged from those elections with the second highest number of MPs, behind the People’s Party of Pakistan, both of whom looked to form a coalition to challange pro-Musharraf parties.