There are very few devotees at Data Ganj Baksh, Lahore’s most-revered Sufi shrine. Usually, there’s no place to stand on a Thursday, but today is different.
Data Ganj Baksh, or the giver who bestows treasure, looks a bit like the rest of the city. Mostly shut.
Shops downed shutters and schools suspended classes in Punjab’s provincial capital in protest against the ban on former PM Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, holding office or contesting elections. Dressed in a starched white shalwar-kameez, devotee Hafiz Shahzad said: “Pakistan has been hijacked. This decision is unpardonable.”
Shahzad is not alone. Everyone HT spoke to in this city has a complaint against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Why was government’s rule imposed when someone else from Sharif’s party could have been elected chief minister in place of Shahbaz Sharif?
As Nawaz Sharif gave a call for “jihad” against the dismissal of the provincial government, there were protests across Pakistan against the decision to impose governor’s rule on the Punjab province.
“Pakistan is burning. Muslims are killing Muslims in Swat and the tribal areas. And Zardari is focusing on disqualifying me,” Sharif said at a public meeting in Sheikhupura.
Outside the Punjab Assembly on the Mall Road, supporters were out in strength. They were both angry and agitated.
“Zardari has made a grave mistake. He will live to regret it,” Alauddin Khan, a Pakistan Muslim League (N) worker, said at the steps of the Assembly building.
The alliance between the PML (N) and Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party came about after the February 2008 elections, where neither party got a majority in the National Assembly or the provincial legislature in Punjab.
With the disqualification of the Sharifs, a long period of personalised confrontation between the two principal parties in Pakistan has been set in motion. Zardari’s decision to impose Governor’s rule, analysts believe, followed Nawaz Sharif’s announcement that he would join a “long march” of lawyers to Islamabad demanding the restoration of deposed chief justice Iftekhar Muhammad Chaudhry next month.
“Imposing governor’s rule is an unconstitutional step. The situation is extremely fluid. This is not in Pakistan’s interest,” Islamabad-based lawyer Anees Jillani told HT.
Adding another twist to the unfolding drama, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani has convened a meeting of the cabinet on Friday, where the situation in Punjab is likely to come up for discussion.
Earlier, he described the court decision to ban the Sharif brothers as a “setback”.