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Did Michael Kugelman say that Nawaz Sharif is wildly popular?

He was misquoted in a BBC News article


Claim: Analyst Michael Kugelman said that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif is “a top candidate to be the next premier not because he’s wildly popular – he certainly is – but more so because he’s played his cards right”. 

Fact: The BBC misquoted Kugelman in an article. In his original comment to the publication, while referring to Sharif being “wildly popular”, he said, “he certainly is not” and not “he certainly is”.

Elections 2024

Ahead of the general elections on 8 February 2024, the political landscape is characterised by distinct circumstances for Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif, and the shadow of alleged military interference. 

Sharif, a three-time prime minister, faced a setback in 2018 when he couldn’t participate in the election due to imprisonment and a ban on running for office owing to a corruption scandal. However, six years later, he has made a comeback. Sharif was recently cleared of all charges, and the lifetime ban deemed unconstitutional, and is now positioned for a potential fourth term as prime minister.

On the other hand, Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician, won the 2018 election but is not on the ballot in the upcoming elections due to imprisonment, which he and his supporters decry as politically motivated and a conspiracy. His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), faces obstacles with multiple key leaders and supporters behind bars, defections, and the loss of its cricket bat symbol, raising concerns about fair campaigning and a level playing field. Just a week before the election, two additional sentences, 14 years on charges of illegally selling state gifts and ten years on charges of revealing state secrets, were handed down to Khan, who was already serving a three-year sentence in the Toshakhana case.

Cipher case

Since his ouster, former premier Khan has repeatedly mentioned a cipher as evidence of a conspiracy to remove his government.

The purported cipher, sent to Islamabad in 2022 by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, recounted a meeting involving US State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Pakistani envoy Asad Majeed Khan. 

US-based publication The Intercept, claiming to have obtained a copy of the cable, reproduced its content on 9 August 2023, suggesting that the US raised objections to Imran Khan’s foreign policy regarding the Ukraine conflict and pressured the Pakistani establishment to remove him.

Toshakhana case

Khan has been accused of unlawfully buying and selling gifts stored in the Toshakhana, a government-owned department, during his premiership. The gifts, valued at over 140 million Pakistani rupees, included perfumes, diamond jewellery, dinner sets, and Rolexes. Khan said he legally purchased and declared the items, denying any wrongdoing or profiting from state gifts. However, the prosecution claimed he didn’t correctly disclose income from selling the gifts, and his aides were accused of selling some gifts in Dubai while concealing their value. The August court judgement accused Khan of hiding benefits from the national exchequer and providing false information about gifts obtained from Toshakhana during his 2018 to 2022 tenure.

Khan’s ouster and arrest

On 10 April 2022, Khan was voted out of office through a no-confidence vote. On 9 May 2023, he was arrested on the orders of the National Accountability Bureau in the Al-Qadir Trust case. On 12 May 2023, he was granted bail by the Islamabad High Court and returned to his residence in Lahore under police protection. On 5 August 2023, Khan was arrested from his Lahore residence in the Toshakhana case after a court conviction.

Fact or Fiction?

On 2 February 2024, X (formerly Twitter) Ashis Basu (@BasuAshis) posted a BBC News article titled, “Nawaz Sharif: Pakistan’s king of comebacks looks set to be PM again”. 

The user shared a quote from the article attributed to Michael Kugelman, South Asia Director at the Wilson Center think tank. His tweet reads,

He’s a top candidate to be the next premier not because he’s wildly popular – he certainly is – but more so because he’s played his cards right,” says analyst ⁦@MichaelKugelman⁩, the South Asia Director at the Wilson Center think tank.”

Soch Fact Check found the claim to be misleading. Responding to a tweet of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan’s supporter who called out Kugelman and urged him to provide evidence of Sharif being “wildly popular”, the analyst clarified that the BBC News had misquoted him.

He tweeted, “To clarify: I was misquoted. In my original written comments I had typed “he certainly is not” not “he certainly is.” There was an error in transcribing my quote. I requested a correction. It’s now been fixed on the BBC site.”

Soch Fact Check ascertained that the BBC News report has now been updated to reflect Kugelman’s original comment about Sharif’s popularity, which has been reproduced below:

“He’s a top candidate to be the next premier not because he’s wildly popular – he certainly is not – but more so because he’s played his cards right.”


The misleading statement being attributed to Kugelman can be found here, here, here and here on X.

The claim was also shared here on Facebook.

Conclusion: Michael Kugelman did not say that Nawaz Sharif is a top candidate for Pakistan’s next premiership due to his wild popularity. The viral claim is based on a misquotation of the analyst’s original statement.

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