• PML-N leader says he has ‘forgotten his grief’, but some personal wounds never heal
• Calls for harmony among institutions to strengthen Constitution; says his party ready for polls
• Promised roadmap to ‘end economic woes’ absent from Minar-i-Pakistan speech
LAHORE: After four years in self-imposed exile, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif landed in Pakistan on Saturday to a rousing welcome by party workers and leaders, who had gathered at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore to listen to his emotionally charged speech, wherein he agreed to forgive all those who had slighted him.
Accompanied by journalists and party leaders, Mr Sharif arrived in Islamabad on a chartered plane from Dubai and, after meeting some legal requirements regarding his bail and pending cases, left for Lahore. From Lahore airport, he boarded a helicopter that landed at the Lahore Fort, from where he moved to the rally venue in the early evening.
Clad in blue with a red scarf wrapped around his neck, the former premier became emotional while talking about the ordeal he, his daughter and other party leaders had to face during the tenure of Imran Khan, which ended in April 2022 following a no-trust vote.
The elder Sharif’s speech — which started with him symbolically freeing pigeons — focused on ‘rebuilding Pakistan’ as he called for good relations with neighbours and harmony among all constitutional institutions and political players for the betterment of the country.
He also made it clear that he would not “seek revenge” against those allegedly involved in his ouster in 2017, and the sufferings inflicted on his family.
Interestingly, the PML-N leader did not share a roadmap — as promised by his party — to pull the country out of the economic quagmire. He also did not mention the upcoming elections in his speech, which are slated to be held in Jan 2024.
‘Who is responsible?’
As he started his speech, he asked participants to tell him who was responsible for his ouster in the Panama Papers case. “Tell me… who are they who separated me from my family and the people of Pakistan? We are those who built Pakistan. We made Pakistan an atomic power. We brought an end to loadshedding and brought prosperity,” he said and added he had no “desire to take revenge”. “What I want is the prosperity of my people,” he said.
His statement seemed to cement the shift in the PML-N’s narrative — away from seeking accountability of former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, ex-ISI head Gen Faiz Hamid and former chief justices Saqib Nisar and Asif Saeed Khosa for their alleged involvement in the fall of the PML-N government.
Citing the experience he had gained over the course of his 40-year political career, Mr Sharif said, “Pakistan’s constitutional institutions, political parties and all other stakeholders need to work together to deal with the challenges we are facing today. Without this, our country will not progress. We will have to figure out why the country is facing such a situation. Let me make it clear that we will have to follow the Constitution to move forward.”
“Everyone needs to come together to strengthen the Constitution and remove the disease that affects the country again and again,” he said.
Without naming India, Mr Sharif also said, “We cannot progress by fighting neighbours. We have to introduce an effective foreign policy and maintain good relations with our neighbours, especially as without this the country cannot progress. Pakistan will have to break the begging bowl for good,” he maintained.
“Even for the Kashmir solution, we will have to work in an honourable way,” he said, according to a Dawn.com report.
Calling for new beginnings, Mr Sharif said, “I still have the same passion. At this point in my life, I can see a changed Pakistan. Come forward and take the reins of the country and never allow anyone to play havoc with your country,” he said, in reference to the PTI chairman.
“I have restrained myself from saying something which I wanted to,” he said cryptically.
“I never betrayed my people. I always served them, but I was put in jail, and sent into exile, false cases against me, my younger brother, my daughter and other party leaders were instituted, but none of them quit the party.”
“I have forgotten all my grief — but some wounds never healed,” he said. “I could not lay my father and mother in their graves. While in captivity, I had asked the Adiala Jail superintendent to get me connected to my sons in London to inquire after the health of my wife who was in ICU in London, but he did not. Two and half hours later, he told me that my wife had passed away.”
Comparing the inflation rate during his government with the present, he said that had his government’s policies continued, people would have been prosperous.
He said his party’s narrative was that of the development works of the PML-N’s tenures. The former PM also denounced brutalities in Gaza by the Israeli forces. He said the people of Palestine should be given their due right as he raised the Palestinian flag.
Emotional scenes were witnessed as Mr Sharif reunited with his daughter on the stage at the Minar-i-Pakistan rally.
PML-N workers from across the country had started gathering at the venue in the day. By the time Mr Sharif reached the venue, a good number of those coming from far-flung areas were resting at the greenbelts outside Minar-i-Pakistan. The participation of Lahoris appeared to be low despite the best efforts by the PML-N leaders to mobilise the workers.
In comparison with the PML-N and its allies’ landmark rally in Gujranwala in 2020, this political show lacked enthusiasm and the party organisers relied heavily on playing party anthems at different points leading to the venue.
The other unique feature of the rally was almost every PML-N leader or aspirant for party tickets for upcoming polls was leading a group of workers holding the placards of his constituency to the venue to register his attendance.
Earlier in the day, Mr Sharif spoke to journalists at the Dubai airport before his departure, saying that the country had to get back on its feet as “nobody else will lift us up”.
“Whatever date the ECP announces, everyone will [abide by it]. My priority is whatever the ECP says. Pakistan has a fair ECP today and I feel it will make the best decision with regards to the election.
“The process takes time. Some work is left. A census has been done. Delimitations have to be carried out. ECP has an eye on all these things,” he said, adding that the party was ready for polls.
Asked about the May 9 violence, allegedly carried out by the PTI, Mr Sharif smirked and said, “We are the May 28 ones, not May 9,” referring to the nuclear tests carried out on May 28, 1998, under his leadership.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2023