Opinion makers weigh in on Nawaz's 'homecoming' procession

Analysts remain divided on the strength of the crowd that will come out onto the streets for the former premier.
Published August 9, 2017

As ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif departed on a highly publicised rally from Islamabad to Lahore with a lower-than-expected turnout of supporters, questions remained about PML-N's true intent behind what was widely perceived as a show of power.

The absence of key party players among those accompanying the procession was another point for discussion among journalists and analysts across the ideological spectrum.


Nusrat Javed, analyst

"We thought we'd see people from end to end of the twin cities, but it appears that Islamabad and Rawalpindi are running business as usual."

"We are not seeing the kind of political activity we expected: there are fewer people and more cars [in the convoy]."

"I think the government is flexing its muscles and it has many resources. Gathering 100,000 people is not hard, but lets be honest, there isn't that kind of turnout."

"We will find out when it reaches Rawalpindi [believed to be a PML-N stronghold] whether the rally is a crowd puller or not."

Marvi Sirmed, commentator

"The PML-N worker [is the sort] who does not traditionally leave his comfort zone. When Nawaz returned during the Musharraf era and PML-N workers were called to gather at the airport, they did not come out.

"They do not have the temperament for agitation, they are not the kind of workers who can take a beating.

"The shape the procession takes remains to be seen, but so far it is not a charged crowd. It is possible that as the procession gets closer to Lahore, the crowd will grow."

Orya Maqbool Jaan, anchorperson

"Somebody has given him [Nawaz Sharif] the wrong advice that he is at the peak of his popularity. There weren't even a few hundred people gathered [at Islamabad's D-Chowk, where he was expected to address the crowd], which is why he did not speak.

"Nawaz Sharif wrongly assessed that the procession would be a crowd-puller. They incorrectly believed that they could begin a movement that thousands of people would join.

"I am not saying that he doesn't have a vote bank, but his voter is very different. He has not assessed his voter properly. The PML-N does not have agitative workers, so the turnout is low.

"PML-N supporters are the kind of people who go to bed early and enjoy spending their evenings eating ice cream. They are the kind of voters who can make arrangements for rallies, not the kind who make blood sacrifices.

"Even Nawaz Sharif's own trajectory to power came about without any movement or resistance.

"It is not difficult to gather people and set up camps, but to have a charged crowd that runs alongside your car, you can't see that here."

Sheikh Rashid, AML leader

"The rally is a weak show of power. They are trying to get an NRO and prevent the Hudaibiyah Paper Mills case from being reopened, and to prevent Justice Ijazul Ahsan from overseeing the [Panamagate] case proceedings [in accountability courts].

"This kind of show will not make any of these things to happen.

"The party's people have all moved out of Rawalpindi, they are all with him and moving towards Lahore, so whatever people they have with them [right now] is all the strength they have.

'If a person like me was to take out a rally from Rawalpindi, even I would be able to bring at least 5,000 people out of their homes. But he has been the prime minister thrice, and these few thousand people are all they have managed to gather. The people with them are all from Rawalpindi itself, no one is joining them from the Union Councils they are passing through, even the ones they have seats in."

Qamar Zaman Kaira, PPP leader

"I wonder where all those thousands of people and cars that [PML-N leader] Amir Muqam was bringing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa went. Where did the people coming from Azad Jammu and Kashmir go, because the convoy right now is only around 5,000 people. Where are the others?"


Nusrat Javed

"More than a power show, it is a message. They are trying to show that at the very least their voters have not accepted the decision [of the Supreme Court to disqualify him in the Panamagate case]."

"Who could be behind the conspiracy? There are a number of different players, including the army, state institutions, the judiciary, business owners, especially property tycoons, and others.

"Keeping all this in mind and expecting that Nawaz Sharif is only referring to one particular institution as being against him is not wise.

"He was caught in a trap that was laid for him.

"He is trying to keep the PML-N intact, to prevent it splitting into factions and to keep it united in the run-up to the next General Election.

"He has to show his voters that he has been victimised.

Orya Maqbool Jan

"Movements cannot be successful if they are camouflaged. You [Nawaz Sharif] must provide a target and specify who is conspiring against you.

"The Panamagate case was so transparent; people read the JIT report. It is difficult for them to say that someone targeted them.

"It is the first rally in Pakistani history in which the administration is on their side ─ the deputy commissioner, the police, the prime minister, all of them belong to their own party.

"A rally is one taken out by the opposition. [We] cannot call this a rally. There is no resistance from Pindi to Lahore. This is not a rally, this is a jaloos, like a shaadi ka jaloos.

"Who are they rallying against then? It doesn't seem like they are campaigning for the General Election.

"It means they are rallying against the Supreme Court. It looks like a move to avoid the National Accountability Bureau cases.

"It sets a precedent for people who are not happy with court judgements to demonstrate against institutions if they have even a few supporters of their own.

Iftikhar Shirazi, journalist

"He [Nawaz Sharif] wants to tell people only one thing ─ that the decision to disqualify him has not affected the loyalties of those who voted for him, and they will continue to vote for whomever Nawaz recommends.

"I do not see much other purpose behind the rally. I think for political parties to come out onto the streets in order to mobilise their voters and deepen their political penetration cannot be a bad move."

Marvi Sirmed

"Perhaps the PML-N is holding the rally because they want to get across the message that the party is still powerful and this is them flexing their political muscles.

"Although Nawaz Sharif has been disqualified as prime minister, can't hold party office or become a member of parliament, that doesn't mean he is not a politician anymore. Article 10 of the Constitution gives him the same rights as us. He can take out a rally and make speeches, his other freedoms are not affected.

"If someone is exercising freedom to associate and assemble, it is in accordance with the law, and in line with democratic and constitutional principles.

"You may have noticed a couple of petitions [submitted in court] against granting permission to the rally, but they were not even maintainable.

"From the opposition, especially the PTI, the narrative is that since the prime minister has been deseated and is not even allowed to be party leader, so what right does he have [to lead a rally]? And if the PTI does the same, it is called a protest."

Zahid Hussain, senior journalist

"There can be a thousand different discussions about the technicalities of the Panamagate proceedings, but to say that what you are saying is the ultimate truth is not right.

"We cannot assume that the judges are running a conspiracy theory and they sat down with someone to ask them to dictate the verdict.

"If we are agreeing upon that, we are saying that the movement for the judiciary's freedom was for naught.

"By saying all these things about the Panamagate verdict, we are returning power to the forces that we fought against in the first place.

"We can take issue with the judiciary's verdict, but not with the judiciary itself."

Qamar Zaman Kaira

"We have asked Nawaz Sharif repeatedly to tell us who has been conspiring against him, and all this talk about a conspiracy is being used to propagate the idea that the process of accountability is somehow hindering the democratic process."


Nusrat Javed

"We are feeling Nisar's absence because it was expected that he would drive the car, but his back problems make that difficult for him, so he will probably get people to join the convoy from his constituency.

"And if he doesn't get more supporters with him, it means he has distanced himself from the show."

Marvi Sirmed

"Chaudhry Nisar is very independent-minded and the master of his own wishes, but if anyone thinks that he will leave the PML-N or Nawaz Sharif and run away, they are wrong.

He is pragmatic, in addition to being loyal to the party. If he leaves the PML-N and goes to another party, where will he get centre-stage? The PTI and PPP together have three prime ministers waiting in the wings to rule.

"When Nisar disagrees with something, he often disappears to make his stance known. After 1999, he remained shut up in his home and was missing from the scene for a while."