LONDON DIARY: The wait for Nawaz

Updated 21 Sep 2020

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NAWAZ Sharif leaves Stanhope House, hours after delivering his speech at the conference. —Photo by writer
NAWAZ Sharif leaves Stanhope House, hours after delivering his speech at the conference. —Photo by writer

A STONE’S throw from the lush green expanses of Hyde Park, Stanhope Place was buzzing with activity from the crack of dawn. It was here, inside the commercial offices of Stanhope House, that Nawaz Sharif broke his months-long silence to deliver an unreserved, scorching speech against the military establishment.

As he arrived there, journalists pressed Nawaz to share a precursor of what was to come. But he revealed nothing, and simply said “you’ll see”, as he climbed the steps and disappeared into the staggering premises.

Inside, a green screen had been set up behind a wooden desk, where Nawaz sat before a camera and made what will be remembered as one of his most historic and daring political statements.

Outside, tea was served with mithai and biscuits which were consumed between collective gasps and jaw-drops.

In a speech that lasted well past half an hour, Nawaz launched an attack on “the forces that brought Imran Khan to power”. As the speech ended, his son Hussain Nawaz, met the reporters. “This is the beginning of a struggle — not against Imran Khan but against a parallel system.”

“They will not have the luxury of locking Nawaz away, of keeping him silent,” he added, in response to a question about Nawaz’s possible return to Pakistan.

Read | Struggle not against Imran Khan but those who brought him into power: Nawaz Sharif

Social media erupted with hot-takes on the speech as it unfolded. “Explosive,” said some journalists. “But will it threaten the existing order?” asked others. Similar questions were fervently discussed outside Stanhope House as the wait began for Nawaz to step out and take questions from journalists — a move that would have been a calculated change from his deliberate distance from the media during his time in London.

Some PML-N workers gathered outside with boxes of Papa John’s pizza, an unsuspecting symbol of resistance flaunted blatantly, hours after Nawaz hit out at retired General Asim Bajwa who has alleged links to the pizza company.

Hours later, reporters were invited inside for a strictly off-record conversation and informal meeting. It had been a long day, and Nawaz did not discuss anything political lest it eclipse his APC speech. But he appeared relaxed and resolute, as if a weight had been taken off his chest.

As some shared their reactions, the PML-N leader listened and thanked the media for their support. He appeared well-versed on all the tweets and analyses of his speech.

Time and again, he hinted that he will remain active, engaged and connected with his supporters in the UK and representatives of the media. Past 6pm, he departed from the venue, bringing a long and happening day to an end.

As the crowd dispersed, residents who live in nearby flats wondered what all the fuss was about, and what this animated group of people had gathered for that warranted a nearly 12-hour wait. As reporters offered some context to curious passers-by, one exclaimed, “Oh, so it’s a victory for democracy? Cheers to that.”

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2020