ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has expressed concern over ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s plan to travel to Lahore with a cavalcade on the GT Road, terming it “a deliberate attempt to undermine the Supreme Court” by calling into question its verdict in the Panama Papers case.

“This was a unanimous decision by five SC judges, and issued after a thorough investigation. By challenging the Supreme Court, Nawaz Sharif is attempting to destroy the judicial system in the country,” Mr Khan alleged in a statement issued by the party on Sunday.

Reacting to Imran’s allegations, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that Mr Sharif’s travel plans were making PTI leaders anxious, because they were afraid of the support this decision had generated for the former PM.

“The PTI is afraid of the strong solidarity that will be demonstrated by the masses for [the ousted] prime minister, who is now emerging as the people’s prime minister,” Mr Iqbal told Dawn.

In a bid to demonstrate its political power, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had announced on Saturday that Mr Sharif would travel to Lahore via the historic Grand Trunk Road on Wednesday (Aug 9).

Accuses Sharif of using state machinery to organise cavalcade; interior minister says ex-PM entitled to official security

PML-N leaders claim they took 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.

Party leaders expect it could take two days for Mr Sharif to travel the 300km or so between Islamabad and Lahore, since everyone wanted to give their leader a rousing welcome in all towns along the GT Road.

Mr Sharif will return to his hometown for the first time since his ouster following the July 28 Supreme Court judgement in the Panama Papers case.

On Sunday, the PTI chairman said: “Having become politically redundant after his disqualification, and knowing he can never become the prime minister now, Nawaz Sharif is prepared to destroy the whole democratic system.”

Equally damaging, Mr Khan pointed out, was the Sharif family’s destruction of the nation’s morality, by seeking to make corruption by the powerful an acceptable norm in society. “In a democracy, one leads by moral authority and Nawaz Sharif has lost that authority the day his corruption was exposed,” he added.

The PTI chief asserted that Nawaz Sharif’s second motivation to head down the GT Road was to put pressure on the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which would be opening cases related to corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, asset concealment and forgery against him and his family.

“These are criminal cases and Mr Sharif is seeking to build up pressure against NAB and the accountability court,” he alleged.

The PTI chief said that while it was everyone’s democratic right to protest peacefully, the Sharif protest, aided and abetted by the entire Punjab government machinery, was neither democratic nor peaceful.

“It is ironic that when PTI was peacefully protesting to seek justice for (election) rigging, and later against the corruption unveiled in the Panama Papers, the Sharif government was accusing it of derailing the system. Now, Mr Sharif and his cohorts are looking to actually bring down the democratic system by refusing to accept the SC verdict,” he said.

Mr Khan added that while the PTI called off its protests once the SC took up the rigging and corruption cases, Nawaz Sharif had chosen to take to the streets after being found guilty and being disqualified.

“Worse still, he continues to use state resources – from funds to government machinery including Punjab police and local governments – to destroy the judiciary and thereby the democratic system, which is moving towards accountability of the powerful for the first time,” Mr Khan said.

On the other hand, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal highlighted the contradiction in the PTI’s stance, saying that the party thought only it had the right to stage sit-ins and disrupt the working of the country.

He said the people’s response was spontaneous and they were only expressing their sentiments because they believed Nawaz Sharif had been wronged and denied the opportunity to serve the country. “Every indicator was improving and there was no justification for his removal. This has now given him a lot of sympathy from the people,” he claimed.

The interior minister also refuted the charges that state resources were being used for the PML-N’s rally and claimed that all expenses would be met from party resources.

However, as a former prime minister, he said Mr Sharif was entitled to have official security, which would be provided to him.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2017

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