ISLAMABAD - Even before the formal meeting of various Pakistan Muslim League (PML) factions to form a United Muslim League, differences have emerged on whether it should be an alliance or a party and who should be the top leader, political sources said.

"(Former president) Pervez Musharraf wants this to be a party but Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (PML-Quaid-e-Azam chief) and Pir Pagara (PML-Functional head) want the factions to contest elections together without merging under a UML banner,” a well-informed PML-Q leader told The Nation.

"There are also differences on who should be the head of the alliance as Musharraf insists he should be the leader. The PML-Q and the PML-F think they have representation in the assemblies and on merit they should decide the head of the alliance or the unified party, as the case may be,” he added.

Another insider said the party leaders were in talks to sort out differences and agree on a "power sharing formula". He said the APML, PML-Q and PML-F leaders might in the end agree on Musharraf as head of the alliance and a prime ministerial candidate, a PML-Q nominee for chief ministership in Punjab and a PML-F candidate for chief ministership in Sindh if the alliance 'miraculously' wins the 2018 polls.

PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain says the UML will only be an alliance and the factions will not be merged into a new party. After his initial meeting with Pervez Musharraf and PML-F chief Pir Pagara, Shujaat had said the "new alliance" was being formed to bring Leaguers on a single platform. He said initially this alliance will comprise three political parties, Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), PML-Q, and PML-F, and other parties or PML factions will be invited later to join the alliance.

APML Secretary-General Dr Mohammed Amjed claims that many stalwarts of the PML (Nawaz) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) may join the UML. "People think that Pervez Musharraf has the leadership qualities and charisma to bring the country out of crisis,” he said. The APML leader said the UML will soon be a reality to challenge the parties that have failed to deliver despite taking turns in power.

Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said he was a supporter of a united Muslim League but at this time he might not join the new alliance as he was an ally of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). "We have an alliance already with the PTI. If there is a sincere effort for unifying Muslim League factions, I will support it,” he said.

Some factions of the Leagues registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan include PML-N, PML (Qasim), PML (Qayyum Group), PML, PML (Z), Pakistan Fatima Jinnah Muslim League, PML (Sher-e-Bangal), AML, Pakistan National Muslim League, APML, PML (Muttahida), Peoples Muslim League, Pakistan Muslim League Council, Pakistan Muslim League Democratic, Muttahida Muslim League, PML (Safdar), PML (Likeminded), PML (Junejo), PML (Nazaryati) and PML (Zehri Group).

Dr Mohammed Amjed said all the factions need to unite under Musharraf to give a tough challenge to the PML-N and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). "Many from these two parties will also join the UML. It will be a strong force,” he said.

Despite setbacks since his return to Pakistan from abroad shortly before the May 2013 general elections, Musharraf has not changed his mind about his political role. He is of the firm view that bigger parties stand thoroughly discredited, which makes space for a force under his stewardship. In 2013, Musharraf's APML had boycotted the elections as he was barred from contesting.

PML-Zia chief Ijazul Haq thinks the efforts to unify PML splinter groups will be fruitless unless the PML-N becomes part of it, being the largest of all the factions. "The PML-N holds the key. If they are not part of it, the smaller factions can't make any big difference,” he said.