ISLAMABAD: The delayed departure of Nawaz Sharif and his rush to reach Jhelum on the second leg of his homeward journey to Lahore via GT Road on Thursday indicated a lack of planning and coordination within the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
In the morning, the rally waited for more than two hours in the hope of attracting more and more people, but when it did not happen, the convoy rushed out of Rawalpindi district bypassing the planned stopovers in Rawat and Gujar Khan, disappointing the local leaders who had set up camps to receive their leader.
Interestingly, the vehicle ousted prime minister Sharif was travelling in sped up all of a sudden while passing through the constituency of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, making it difficult even for the other vehicles, including those carrying the personnel of protocol and security, to keep pace with it. They, however, managed to catch up with him only when Mr Sharif made a brief stopover at Sohawa.
The former interior minister was present in the Parliament House when Mr Sharif’s convoy was passing through his constituency.
Mr Sharif had himself announced on Wednesday night during his unplanned address at Committee Chowk in Rawalpindi that they would begin their journey at 11am. However, the local Pindi leadership kept on delaying the departure due to an unimpressive gathering at Kutchery Chowk — the starting point for the rally for the second day.
The unusual and unnecessary slow pace of the rally from Islamabad to Rawalpindi on the opening day has strengthened the claim of critics and opposition parties that the PML-N leadership had not received the response it was expecting from the people.
The opposition alleged that the PML-N leadership had intentionally adopted a “go-slow” strategy in order to provide the organisers time to ensure the presence of the maximum number of people.
Sources claimed that Mr Sharif through his close aides had even conveyed his displeasure to the Pindi leadership over the lack of coordination and poor arrangements.
It was because of the lack of planning that most of the TV channels missed the live broadcast of Mr Sharif’s first-ever direct speech to the public after his ouster at Rawalpindi’s Committee Chowk as the former prime minister was not scheduled to speak at this point, according to the initial plan.
Meanwhile, Chaudhry Nisar through his spokesman in the evening denied reports aired by some TV channels quoting him as saying that he had not accompanied Mr Sharif because of backache.
The clarification issued by the former interior minister, however, once again created a controversy when he indirectly criticised other party leaders for not joining the convoy. He said the backache was not the actual reason for his decision to stay away from the rally.
“The fact is that 99 per cent of senior party leaders are not present in the rally. Why am I only made a controversial person?” he asked, apparently indicating that besides him, there are others in the party who are not happy with Mr Sharif’s decision to go to Lahore via GT Road. The media reports claim that Chaudhry Nisar wanted Mr Sharif to travel via Motorway and hold the rally only in Lahore.
On the other hand, incumbent Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal denied that the party leadership was not satisfied with the people’s response.
Talking to Dawn, Mr Iqbal claimed that the situation was contrary to the reports being aired by some TV channels known for their opposition to the PML-N, and said the former prime minister had in fact “praised” the local leadership of Rawalpindi for their work.
Mr Iqbal also denied that they had intentionally adopted a “go-slow” policy, saying that the convoy was unable to move because the people had started walking in front of Mr Sharif’s vehicle, forcing the whole convoy to move with pedestrian speed. He said that they had attempted several times to remove people from in front of the vehicle, but they failed to do so.
Mr Iqbal said Rawalpindi was not included in the plan as a night stopover, but they had to change the plan as they could not get on GT Road as per schedule due to the large crowd that had gathered in the twin cities to welcome their leader.
When asked about the low attendance on Thursday morning, Mr Iqbal said the Pindi show was over on Wednesday night with the address of Mr Sharif. He said the PML-N rally should not be compared with the long marches and the reception which Benazir Bhutto had received in 1986 upon her return to the country after ending exile. The minister said Mr Sharif was going back home and on his way he would meet the people to thank them for their support to the party.
Denying differences within the party, Mr Iqbal said that in fact the Supreme Court decision had united the party which had come out as more cohesively.
“The party which had been in a dormant mood for four years has all of a sudden become energised and all the ranks and files have been galvanised,” he added. He also denied that Chaudhry Nisar had not been part of the rally due to differences. “He is very much with the party.”
Mr Iqbal expressed the hope that Mr Sharif would reach Lahore on Saturday after staying in Jhelum and Gujranwala on Thursday and Friday nights, respectively.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2017