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On second day, Nawaz Sharif’s rally gets mixed response

Key leaders from the ruling PML-N party were conspicuous by their absence, with some commentators suggesting this could be a reflection of disagreements within the party.

world Updated: Aug 10, 2017 19:14 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Nawaz Sharif,PML-N party,Pakistan Supreme Court
Pakistani police commandos guard Nawaz Sharif’s vehicle during a rally in Rawalpindi on August 10, 2017. (AP)

Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif’s rally through Punjab province entered its second day on Thursday, evoking a mixed response as thousands gathered to receive him at some places while the turnout in his party’s stronghold of Rawalpindi was lower than expected.

Sharif’s political caravan slowly made its way into the rural areas of Punjab province en route to his hometown of Lahore. However, key leaders from Sharif’s ruling PML-N party were conspicuous by their absence, with some commentators suggesting this could be a reflection of disagreements within the party.

But Sharif, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court last year for not being honest about his assets, remained unfazed by any of this and insisted the rally was the first step to bringing his party back to power in next year’s general elections.

On the way to Jhelum, considered to be half way between Islamabad and Lahore, Sharif asked his supporters: "Do you accept the court's decision? Did you not vote for me as your prime minister?"

He then added: "I have come out onto the streets with a case against your disqualification. There are no allegations of corruption against me."

Sharif travelled from the garrison city of Rawalpindi to Ayub Park with his convoy but then separated from the other vehicles shortly after 2 pm. His armoured vehicle picked up speed and proceeded to Jhelum with a police escort. He passed a number of camps where small groups of PML-N workers had gathered to listen to him, the media reported.

Large numbers of police were deployed in Islamabad and Rawalpindi on Thursday, as compared to the first day of the rally, but fewer cars were accompanying Sharif’s procession.

What was said to be a show of the PML-N's political muscle - especially in Rawalpindi, which has traditionally been a stronghold for the PML-N - had a lower turnout of supporters than expected, despite the party describing the ousted premier as "the prime minister of hearts".

Before his departure from Rawalpindi's Punjab House on Thursday morning, Sharif held a meeting with PML-N officials, including interior minister Ahsan Iqbal and Marvi Memon, and expressed anger at the local administration over the low turnout for his rally.

Local news channels reported that PML-N leaders were in the process of making arrangements for more supporters to join the rally, and as the convoy set off towards Lahore once again, senior leaders Abid Sher Ali and Amir Muqam were seen trying to galvanise supporters crowded alongside the route of the motorcade. PML-N leader Mushahidullah Khan claimed a rally of this size had "never happened in Pakistan before".

"As the rally gets closer to Lahore, it will surpass all other jalsas of the past. I believe the people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi should be congratulated for having stood by Nawaz Sharif," he said.

Questions have also been raised about the absence of familiar PML-N faces from the rally, who could possibly have drawn a greater crowd of supporters than relatively new faces such as Talal Chaudhry and Daniyal Aziz. Although Chaudhry and Aziz were very visible during the Panamagate proceedings in the Supreme Court, it is PML-N stalwarts such as Shehbaz Sharif, Khawaja Asif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who were conspicuous by their absence.

Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of the former premier, too was absent, as was his son Hamza Shahbaz. Shehbaz's wife, Tehmina Durrani, known for being vocal and candid on matters related to the Sharif family, asked Sharif in a series of tweets on Wednesday not to put his brother in a tight spot, saying Shehbaz should have been spared the responsibility of protecting and assisting his own party’s rally.

First Published: Aug 10, 2017 19:14 IST