ISLAMABAD: Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday called for a ‘grand debate’ in and outside parliament on why elected prime ministers are sent home prematurely. He also dismissed assertions that he wanted to drive the country towards anarchy, reiterating that the only place he is driving, though with a few detours, is home.
But amid serious security threats and political challenges, Nawaz today (Wednesday) embarks on what PML-N circles call a ‘do or die’ battle for their party to lead a rally from the federal capital to Lahore. The event is likely to be marked with high drama, with rival political parties dubbing the move ‘anti-judiciary’ after the top court disqualified Nawaz on July 28.
Sources in the ruling camp say deliberations in the party over the rally’s route continued on Tuesday, with some party circles having opposed the idea to travel via GT Road instead of the motorway due to security threats. They worried that while Nawaz himself would be travelling in an air-conditioned and bombproof container, accompanied by his family and senior PML-N leaders, the party’s rank-and-file would be exposed to serious security threats.
However, the PML-N leadership, which has apparently been playing the ‘victim card’, is ready to take the risk. Nawaz, who has long been critical of what he called ‘Imran Khan’s container politics’, is now resorting to the same style of agitation. “This will help gain public sympathy the same way it did for [Imran],” says a PML-N MNA.
In an important turn of events, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met new Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at the PM Office. A government official close to Abbasi did not rule out the possibility that security issues regarding Nawaz’s rally were discussed in the meeting and that the army chief might have apprised the premier of the gravity of situation in the wake of serious security threats.
Later, Abbasi met Nawaz and reportedly told him about the enormity of the threats. The ruling party, however, remains adamant that it would take out the rally in a desperate measure to garner public sympathy and support.
Long road home
“They sent me home, so I am going home,” Nawaz told a select group of journalists at the Punjab House on Tuesday. “This shouldn’t be perceived as a show of power… I have the right to return home.”
He also said the trend of unceremoniously sending elected prime ministers home should end. “Former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani should not have been disqualified by the Supreme Court either,” he said.
Gilani was dismissed in 2012 after the PML-N and others petitioned the Supreme Court. He had refused to write a letter to Swiss authorities seeking reopening of graft cases against the then president, Asif Ali Zardari.
“We have not been able to determine our direction in 70 years,” Nawaz regretted while pointing at India which, according to him, has never let democracy derail.
“Could we say the same about our country,” he asked. “We have had democracies, at times so-called democracy, then we have had dictatorships, and then some times [Article] 58-2B of the Constitution was applied to elected prime ministers.”
He said “this unfortunate historic wrong” must change.
But he also distanced himself from the safe passage given to General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. “It was the judiciary’s decision, not our government’s,” Nawaz said of the permission granted to Musharraf to go abroad despite serious cases pending against him.
He insisted that there was no effort on his part to create unrest or divisions in the country, recalling that he and his government had patiently fought out sit-ins, the Panamagate case, and other legal battles.
“This country cannot afford any unrest and political instability. I strongly feel all issues must be resolved through dialogue and reconciliation,” he added.
While answering a question regarding his disqualification, he said, “Everyone knows who is behind this conspiracy and I have had already talked about it, but now I will actively pursue matters related to this.”
He further said that sometimes what appears to be an ending is actually a new beginning. “When I went into exile, everyone thought that it was an end of my political career, but a few years later they saw me as the elected prime minter of the country.”
Answering another question, he said the judge appointed by the top court to monitor National Accountability Bureau (NAB) proceedings against him would not just decide cases but might also have to hear appeals against his own verdicts.
Nawaz also hinted that a constitutional amendment would soon be introduced to amend Article 62, under which he had been disqualified.
The PML-N rally is ready to set off at 10am from the Punjab House today (Wednesday). The rally would be passing through Jinnah Avenue, D-Chowk, Expressway Chowk and Margalla Road in the federal capital before leaving for Rawalpindi via Faizabad. Traffic on these routes would be diverted to alternate routes.
Nawaz is expected to address public gatherings at D-Chowk, Faizabad, and some other points. Sources say the PML-N leadership has instructed party officials to ensure participation in such huge numbers that it takes ‘at least three days’ to reach Lahore.
Nawaz would have overnight stops in Jhelum and Gujranwala before reaching Lahore. For this purpose, PML-N MNAs in both cities have been instructed to make arrangements to accommodate a large number of people. Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir is handling affairs in Gujranwala and MNA Chaudhry Khadim Hussain in Jhelum, according to sources.
Citing security concerns, the Punjab government has instructed the owners of businesses located along the rally’s route to close their respective offices, shops, restaurants and other establishments ahead of the rally ‘till further orders’.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed the development. “Businesses would only close in areas while the rally passes and would be allowed to resume business thereafter to avoid any harm,” the minister said.