GUJRANWALA: It was apparent at the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) rally in Gujranwala on Saturday that party chief Nawaz Sharif has started to take former underdog, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), seriously.
While ostensibly, the rally was part of the opposition’s ‘Go Zardari’ campaign, PTI chief Imran Khan seemed to receive as much flak in Nawaz’s speech as the president himself. In fact, the PML-N chief’s speech echoed two of Imran’s key stated agendas – bringing ‘change’, and working against corruption. The Memogate petition, however, was significantly absent from the address.
Addressing a rally which Senator Pervez Rashid estimated to be 150,000 strong and which media more conservatively estimated at 60, 000, Nawaz said he would bring about change to Pakistan himself. This will be brought about through competent and honest people like Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Ahsan Iqbal, Usman Ibrahim, Ishaq Dar and Khurram Dastgir Khan, he said, taking care to name some of the party’s heavyweights.
The PML-N chief added that Imran’s one-point agenda was to just attract the youth with fake promises, and asked the youth not to be deceived by such elements.
Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also picked up a similar thread, asking rhetorically why Imran had not criticised the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in his Karachi rally.
Gas price hikes
President Asif Ali Zardari’s government, however, also faced severe criticism from the PML-N chief. Price hikes in gas and electricity were at the top of the list – Nawaz was, after all, speaking in an industrial area worst affected by the energy crisis. Promising to build dams and develop coal and thermal energy if his party came to power, he said PML-N would ‘not accept any price hikes’ and if the government did not withdraw the decision, it will ‘play its final role in removing the government’.
Placing the blame for inflation squarely on the government, he said the price increases were a result of a government move to issue ‘new bank notes worth Rs2 billion every day’.
A small hint at the Memogate controversy did appear: Nawaz said the government was defying certain Supreme Court rulings. The May 2 Abbottabad raid, on the other hand, he termed ‘unacceptable’.
Adamant not to be outshone by a PTI ‘tsunami’, Nawaz termed his own entourage from Lahore to Gujranwala a ‘mini long march’.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2012.