Sharif looks to win hearts, minds on GT Road

Published August 6, 2017
OUSTED prime minister Nawaz Sharif waves to supporters gathered at Bhara Kahu on Murree Road on Saturday.—Mohammad Asim / White Star
OUSTED prime minister Nawaz Sharif waves to supporters gathered at Bhara Kahu on Murree Road on Saturday.—Mohammad Asim / White Star

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to demonstrate its political power, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has announced that ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif will travel to Lahore via the historic Grand Trunk (GT) Road on Wednesday (Aug 9).

Talking to Dawn, newly-appointed Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal claimed that the party had taken the decision on the insistence of party lawmakers from cities and towns situated along the GT Road, who wanted to demonstrate their love and respect for Mr Sharif.

The minister confirmed that the party had initially planned that the former PM should travel to Lahore via GT Road, but had to change the plan due to security concerns.

However, he said, they had decided to revert to the original plan when party activists and lawmakers expressed their desire to host grand receptions for their beloved leader.

Says he has a lot to say, but prefers to hold his peace for now; wonders whether courts can ever hold a dictator accountable for his actions

The minister said that party activists and others wanted to give their leader a rousing welcome in every town along the GT Road, fearing it could take two days for Mr Sharif to travel the 300km or so between Islamabad and Lahore.

Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that the party had planned a grand reception for Mr Sharif, who would be returning to his hometown of Lahore for the first time after his ouster in the light of the July 28 Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Papers case.

Mr Sharif’s travel plans were finalised by PML-N leaders at a meeting at Punjab House hours after the former prime minister returned to Islamabad from Murree, where he had been staying since Sunday.

The former prime minister also had an informal chat with senior journalists and met the leaders of his coalition partners — Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakhtoonkhwa Mili Awami Party (PkMAP) president Mehmood Khan Achakzai. Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and PML-N chairman Raja Zafarul Haq, sources said, were also present at Punjab House for some time.

Mr Sharif’s children Maryam Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz were also on hand during his interaction with journalists, as well as Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, her predecessor Pervaiz Rashid, and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal.

Talking to journalists, Mr Sharif declared that he still stood by the Charter of Democracy (CoD), which he had signed with the late Benazir Bhutto over a decade ago.

Answering a question, the former PM said that for the sake of democracy and strengthening the democratic system in the country, he was ready for dialogue with other parties and called for a consensus and unity among political parties.

“Even today, we are committed to the CoD and ready to make it even better,” Mr Sharif said in response to a question about the need for political dialogue in the country.

The former prime minister said he believed in political discourse and had run the country along the same principles. He said his party had accepted the mandate of the previous PPP government in the light of the CoD and, after the 2013 elections, they had accepted the mandate of other parties in other provinces on the same principle.

“Even during the anti-government protests and sit-ins (by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in 2014), we never took an offensive stance,” he recalled.

He said Pakistan was currently on a path to prosperity and would continue to grow. However, he warned that the country could face a “state of anarchy” if not allowed to run on the right track.

Mr Sharif, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court on July 28 from holding any public office for not disclosing his income from Capital FZE — a Dubai-based company owned by his son — said that although he had a lot to say about the circumstances of his ouster, he wished to remain silent for now.

“I understand a lot. I want to say a lot. But for the time being, I want to keep silent,” he said.

“How could I declare a salary I never received from my son’s company?” he said in his apparent reference to the Supreme Court’s verdict. He reiterated that no evidence of corruption had been found against him.

Mr Sharif said that NAB had investigated several corruption cases against his, but this would be the first time they were probing the business set up by his ancestors.

Commenting on the recent remarks of Gen Pervez Musharraf in an interview to BBC, Mr Sharif challenged him to return to Pakistan.

In the interview, Gen Musharraf had stated that dictatorships had served the country better than civilians had.

“He has no courage to return to Pakistan. Come here and say this in public, and then he would come to know (about real situation),” he said.

“Musharraf wanted to sign the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) with me,” Mr Sharif claimed. Without elaborating, he said that he was told to meet Musharraf to strike a deal.

Mr Sharif said that he had learnt a lot from his exile life soon after the military coup in 1999. He said it was important to learn from one’s mistakes, but it seemed that the country had learned nothing from the secession of Bangladesh in 1971.

He asked whether the courts could ever hold a dictator accountable for his actions and regretted that no one had been held responsible for the “murder” of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2017

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