Incarcerated former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday threw his weight behind the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl's (JUI-F) 'Azadi March' against the government, set to begin on October 31, saying that he "fully supported" it.
"Our viewpoint is the same as Maulana's [Fazlur Rehman's] viewpoint, " said Nawaz while speaking to reporters at a Lahore accountability court. He was accompanied by his son-in-law, retired Capt Mohammad Safdar.
A day earlier, Capt Safdar had disclosed that the party supremo’s message to the workers was “they must participate” in Maulana Fazl’s protest. “Those who love the country will join the march,” he had quoted Nawaz as saying.
Nawaz on Friday recalled that Rehman had called for resignations and protest after the 2018 general elections, in which the PTI came to power. "We had convinced him not to take that course but I feel [now] that his argument was solid."
Not paying heed to Maulana's call for the march would be a mistake, he added.
Nawaz said that he has already written a letter to his brother Shahbaz Sharif in this regard, detailing the future course of action of the party, and expressed hope that the PML-N president would brief the media on it.
Differences within PML-N?
Earlier on Thursday, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif skipped “an all-important meeting” with the former prime minister in jail, fuelling speculation the two brothers had developed differences over the issue of joining the JUI-F's march on Oct 31.
Shahbaz did not go to Kot Lakhpat jail to meet his elder brother despite the party’s announcement that the former would present suggestions of its senior leaders to the latter regarding joining the JUI-F protest. The former Punjab chief minister was to announce Nawaz’s decision on the matter after the meeting.
A backache was cited as the reason for Shahbaz’s failure to meet his elder brother.
Sources believe that since Shahbaz is not in favour of joining the march, he “postponed” his meeting with Nawaz as he wanted to present “strong arguments” against the proposal to his brother later.
However, a television channel quoted Shahbaz on Thursday night as saying he could have different views on some issues but his elder brother’s decision was final and the party would follow it.
Later in the day, some leaders — including the son-in-law of Nawaz — declared that the former prime minister had given a “go-ahead” to the workers to participate in it to oust the “selected government”.
Nawaz writes letter to Maulana
Senior PML-N leader Mian Javed Latif said that Nawaz had written a letter to Maulana Fazl informing him about the party’s decision to join the anti-government march.
PML-N’s Lahore chief Pervaiz Malik confirmed in a statement that on the directive of Nawaz, the party would take part in the march. “Time has come to get rid of Imran Khan’s fascist government,” he said.
The party’s spokesperson, Marriyum Aurangzeb, dismissed reports about differences between the two brothers over the march, describing them as a “malicious campaign”.
'Something else at play'
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during a press conference in Multan weighed in on the speculations, saying that the PML-N is not completely in agreement with the JUI-F chief and is divided into two camps over the matter of participation in the long march.
"One camp wishes to partcipate, while the other, which is in the majority, does not wish to participate," he said.
He said that even within the PPP, one sees two divides. "They are saying they will welcome them in every city but maintain at the same time that they have always been against dharna politics."
"Bilawal Bhutto Zardari himself had said that they consider dharna politics harmful to democracy," he added.
He said that when the PTI was staging a sit-in, the party was questioned "on whose directives it is doing so".
The foreign minister said that PTI was constantly criticised with people saying: "You are staging a sit-in to derail democracy."
He said that at the time, PTI had clarified that it only seeks accountability in the election process which should begin from four constituencies.
"Eventually, the Supreme Court listened to us and without even a flower pot breaking, or a window smashing, our protesters dispersed peacefully," said Qureshi.
"Today I ask Bilawal: What need do you have for a dharna? On whose directives are you adamant on holding a dharna?"
The foreign minister questioned how is it that in 2014 there was a threat that democracy could be derailed and how that threat does not exist today. He said that there was "something else at play beneath the surface of the dharna".
"The real reasons are something else entirely and what is being shown is very different."
In a withering rebuke, he also criticised the JUI-F for its earlier announcement of holding a march on October 27 — the despicable day when Indian forces entered Kashmir and took over it.