Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif began a defiant roadshow from Islamabad to Lahore, in a bid to project his political strength ahead of the crucial general elections next year. Despite the security threats, Nawaz Sharif has conducted his roadshow via the iconic Grand Trunk Road that links a large part of South Asia from Bangladesh to Afghanistan. The general elections in Pakistan are due next year.
On Monday, a bomb blast ripped through the route Sharif killed two people. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party sources said some leaders were concerned about Sharif's security and saw the blast as a "message" to Sharif to tone down his rally.
Last month, Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Panama Paper leak case after an investigative panel concluded his family’s assets exceeded their income, effectively ousting him from office and barring him from electoral politics for five years.
In a unanimous decision by a five-judge bench, the Supreme Court also referred all corruption charges against Sharif and his three children, including heir apparent Maryam Nawaz, to an accountability or anti-graft court.
Sharif's convoy swelled to hundreds of vehicles and several thousands of supporters, making it impossible for them to move quickly. Minister of state for information Marriyum Aurangzeb claimed that the number of vehicles in the convoy at one point of time swelled to up to 4,000 in Islamabad.
A plan to address supporters in Islamabad was canceled due to security reasons and paucity of time, party leaders said. Thousands of supporters has been waiting for sharif in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Opposition parties were not convinced about the numbers. Qamar Zaman Kaira of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said that there could be around 10,000 people with Sharif.
Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf said that Sharif failed to bring out people and the rally was already a "flop show." Authorities estimated that up to 8,500 people and 950 vehicles were part of Sharif's procession, reports said.
Massive security arrangements have been put in place onthe route. A special bomb-proof vehicle has been arranged forSharif, who briefly travelled in the vehicle, spending most ofthe time in his car. "Security is an issue, though elaborate measures havebeen taken to make the journey free of any risk," a PML-Nleader said. But Sharif has brushed aside such concerns and told partyleaders that it was vital to speak to supporters about thecircumstances under which he was ousted, party sources said.
Sharif also held a meeting with his successor, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Cabinet ministers andparty leaders before embarking on the long journey. He has not visited Lahore, his hometown, since his ousterfrom the government. The former prime minister also planned to deliver speeches at key places during the journey.
Last month, a five-member apex bench had found Sharif"unfit to hold office", ruling that he had been "dishonest tothe parliament and the courts in not disclosing his employmentin the Dubai-based Capital FZE company in his 2013 nominationpapers."
Sharif is expected to address a rally in Lahore, thescheduled of which has not been announced yet. Sharif's travel plan has upset his rival Imran Khan, whoin a press conference, has alleged that Sharif was disgracingthe court by challenging its decision through the roadshow.
"It is strange that a man who has been disqualified isplanning to...tell people he is innocent," said the cricketer-turned-politician. Canada-based cleric of Pakistani-origin Tahir-ul-Qadrireturned to Lahore ahead of the rally. He has criticised Sharif's roadshow.