LAHORE: Given the elaborate plans made for reception of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Grand Trunk Road, the PML-N rally may take four to six days to reach Lahore from Islamabad, says a report by a premier intelligence agency.

A government official told Dawn that an intelligence agency has informed the authorities that the reception programmes being planned in all towns falling on Mr Sharif’s caravan route would consume four to six days, instead of the two-day schedule given for the rally.

As per the schedule, the ex-PM is set to leave Islamabad on Wednesday (today) and will reach his hometown of Lahore on Thursday (tomorrow).

But local PML-N chapters are making arrangements for Nawaz Sharif’s night stay at Jhelum, Gujrat and Gujranwala, while he is also scheduled to address public meetings at almost all major and small towns falling on the route which included towns of Gujjar Khan, Dina, Kharian, Sarai Alamgir, Wazirabad, Kamonki and Muridke.

At least 20 to 25 National Assembly constituencies fall along the GT Road, besides around 15 constituencies of Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly.

“Each lawmaker has been directed by the party high command to set up reception camps for Mian Sahib’s caravan in his or her constituency and bring as much people as possible to these camps though no target has been set for the purpose,” a senior PML-N leader said.

Referring to the agency’s report, he said some elements in the party were concerned that the prolonged rally would not only leave the workers tired but also make it fairly difficult to meet food and toilet needs of the participants, estimated to be at least in tens of thousands at any given time.

Responding to a query, he said at least 5,000 people would be accompanying Nawaz Sharif throughout the journey, while tens of thousands others would be receiving, and seeing off, their leader at the borders of their respective constituencies (towns).

“But, by the time the caravan reaches Lahore, the participants will swell to some 300,000 as party activists from Gujranwala and Sheikhupura districts will wish to join the concluding ceremony of the rally,” he claimed.

Meanwhile, The PML-N Punjab leaders have been tasked to ensure presence of a ‘million-people’ to put up a ‘grand power show’ in the rally.

The PML-N plans to stretch the rally over at least three days in order to show its ‘popularity’ among the masses.

The federal ministers from Punjab, the whole provincial cabinet, ruling party lawmakers and local government office-bearers reported to have been given the task to ensure maximum participation of people in the rally. “Tens of thousands of people will gather in the Nawaz Sharif’s rally on Wednesday. Even more than one million people will be present in historic rally from Islamabad to Lahore,” Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s adviser Rana Arshad claimed, while talking to Dawn here on Tuesday.

“People will come out of their homes out of their love for Nawaz Sharif. Our opponents will be surprised to see our public show,” said Mr Arshad who is also the president of the Muslim Student Federation. He said: “We are receiving overwhelming response from the people of our constituencies who are eager to join the rally to show solidarity with their leader.”

All PML-N wings including the lawyers, women, youth and minorities have also been ‘ordered’ to separately bring maximum number of people from the communities and join the rally at different points. In this regard, PML-N ministers and lawmakers have been holding meetings with the party workers in their constituencies.

Before the Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify Nawaz Sharif, some PML-N leaders had claimed that in case of an “adverse” verdict a Turkey-like ‘public reaction’ would be witnessed at least in Punjab. As the prediction could not come true, the ruling party now seemed to have resorted to ‘old tactics’ to bring people to its political show. Some observers believe that the party desperately needs political mileage in the face of numerous challenges its government is facing.

As Nawaz will leave from Punjab House, Islamabad, on Wednesday morning the PML-N groups led by federal and provincial ministers will join it from Rawat, Gujjar Khan, Jehlum, Serai Alamgir, Kharian, Lala Musa, Gujrat, Wazirabad, Gujranwala, Kamoki, Muridkay and Shahdara. The rally will culminate at Data Darbar Lahore where Shahbaz Sharif is likely to receive his elder brother.

After Lahore blast on Monday evening on the route of the Nawaz’s rally on Outfall Road that claimed two lives, there were reports that the PML-N was considering to change the route. But Nawaz’s secretary Senator Asif Kirmani declared on Tuesday that there would be no change in the date and route of the rally. “Nawaz Sharif will leave for Lahore from Islamabad by GT Road as people are eagerly waiting to see their leader among them,” Kirmani said.

About the PML-N’s plans for the rally, Punjab government spokesman Malik Ahmad Khan said: “Nawaz Sharif will cover about 300-km Islamabad-Lahore distance in 72 hours in a bullet-proof vehicle. All security arrangements have been made by Punjab police in this regard.” During his journey, Mr Sharif would address the people at several points, he added.

“More than 20,000 police will be deployed on the rally route. The district police officers of Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura and Lahore have been asked to follow the standard operating procedure (SOP). checkpoints have also been set up at the selected spots and police deployment on rooftops and patrolling on the route has also been ensured,” a Punjab police official told Dawn.

The rally route has been decorated with banners and posters inscribed with slogans greeting the ousted premier, assuring him he was still popular with the masses.

The PTI has alleged state machinery is being used to make Nawaz’s return to Lahore a ‘historic’ event. “The federal and Punjab governments are using their full resources to make Nawaz’s show successful,” PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said. He said the PML-N rally was against the apex court’s decision.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbasi told a private TV channel that he had yet to decided whether to join the rally or not.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2017


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