RAWALPINDI: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to begin the second leg of his ‘homecoming rally’ shortly as party supporters continue to gather at Punjab House.
On Wednesday, Sharif, the chief of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), set out from Punjab House, Islamabad after deciding to go home to Lahore via the GT Road earlier.
The amassing of supporters, however, could only get him as far as Rawalpindi — forcing him to spend the night in the city.
Prior to his departure, Nawaz is holding a meeting with top party leaders, including Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider.
Sources said the former premier is expected to set off on his journey from Rawalpindi’s Kacheri Chowk, where hordes of supporters have already gathered.
The Rawalpindi traffic police have made special arrangements to ensure the rally passes through smoothly from Kacheri Chowk, along with the GT Road, to Rawat’s T-Chowk. Arrangements have been made for commuters to use alternative roads once the rally is under way, claimed the police.
The former premier is expected to move through Jhelum, Kharian, Lala Musa and Gujrat to Gujranwala, and then move through Kamoke, Muridke, Kala Shah Kaku, Ferozwala and Shahdara to enter his hometown of Lahore.
PML-N leader Zaeem Qadri, addressing the media earlier, said the party leaders will decide on the way whether to camp in Jhelum or somewhere else. The distance between Rawalpindi and Jhelum is around 100km and usually takes around an hour or so in normal traffic.
After being disqualified by the Supreme Court on July 28 in its verdict in the Panama Papers case, Nawaz has gone to the ‘people’s court’ to seek their verdict.
Addressing supporters at Rawalpindi late Wednesday night, he took a pledge from the people that they would get their mandate respected.
“Promise me you would get your mandate respected. Promise me you won’t allow your prime minister to be humiliated this way,” he stated.
“If you do not protect your rights, they will continue to be snatched away from you,” he told his supporters.
“The judges said there is no corruption case against Nawaz Sharif, so why was I disqualified? I leave this for history to determined,” noted the three-time premier.
Earlier, the former prime minister’s caravan entered Rawalpindi surrounded by scores of supporters.
Strict security preparations were made for the rally, with a significant number of police personnel, including elite force commandos, deployed. A helicopter also followed the procession to provide safe passage for the rally.
The ex-premier departed from Punjab House around noon. Senior government officials — including Abbasi, members of the federal cabinet, and PML-N leaders — were present to see him off.
Chaudhry Nisar – the disgruntled party leader and former interior minister – was conspicuous through his absence from the procession.
The event remained largely peaceful, though Sharif’s supporters assaulted the crew of two local TV stations that had been critical of him during the court proceedings, police official Hafeez Khan said.