ISLAMABAD: Fearing lack of response from the general public upon their arrival in Pakistan, the Sharifs have decided to land in Lahore, as the PML-N is eyeing support of state machineries in AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan to ensure public attendance.
Earlier, deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were scheduled to land in Islamabad from London on the coming Friday.
Maryam confirmed to the media in London on Sunday that her father and she would land in Lahore on July 13.
She said, “People fly out of the country to evade punishment but we are returning to face it.”
“Nawaz Sharif has set a new benchmark by offering his arrest,” she said emphasising that their sacrifices will not go in vain as they will benefit the future generations.
Maryam further said ‘vote ko izzat do’ (respect the vote) movement has entered a decisive stage ahead of the July 25 polls.
She said the nation was behind her father as they planned to return, whereas others chose to fly out of the country with excuses like ‘backache’, in an obvious reference to Pervez Musharraf.
“There are leaders who live abroad to escape punishment,” she concluded.
On account of serious differences among the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz senior leaders in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the party leadership was not hopeful that party members and public would turn up in significant numbers at the Islamabad International Airport on Friday to welcome Sharif and his daughter, which is why the venue was changed to Lahore, it is learnt from well-placed party sources.
The party is also seeking the support of AJK and G-B governments to exhaust their resources in ensuring greater public response at Lahore to welcome the Sharifs who are expected to be arrested by the National Accountability Bureau team soon after their landing.
“There is a lot of tension,” said a source privy to the matter while referring to concerns in the PML-N camp regarding mobilising public support for the July 13 event.
The source said the PML-N leadership in Punjab is already facing problems involving general election preparations, internal differences and related issues.
President PML-N Shehbaz Sharif has assigned his son Hamza Shehbaz the task to manage the public mobilisation campaign for the Sharifs. However, senior PML-N leaders are reluctant to be led by Hamza, it is learnt.
PML-N’s Secretary General in Punjab Raja Ashfaq Sarwar, who escaped the wrath of his constituents during a visit to his home constituency in Murree, is reportedly too busy grappling with the problems at his constituency to deal with the party affairs.
Moreover, the N-League has not appointed a provincial president in Punjab ever since Shehbaz was elevated at the centre.
“Hamza is trying to run the PML-N affairs as de facto president in Punjab and party leaders are not happy,” said a source in PML-N Punjab.
The situation is not any different in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where PML-N’s Secretary General Murtaza Javed Abbasi and disgruntled party bigwig Sardar Mehtab Abbasi are at daggers drawn.
Mehtab was set to contest the general elections from NA-15 (Abbottabad) from where Murtaza has also submitted his nomination papers.
On party leadership’s insistence, Mehtab has withdrawn his candidature from the constituency but his lobby does not want Murtaza to secure the seat.
Mehtab’s son was given the ticket to contest the polls from NA-16 (Abbottabad) but he returned the ticket in reported protest of the PML-N leadership’s decision to prefer Murtaza over his father in NA-15.
In addition, PML-N K-P President Ameer Muqam has reportedly detached himself from the party affairs and is currently in Swat in connection with his election campaign at his home constituency.
Muqam is also facing corruption investigation by NAB and is now reportedly keeping a low-profile.
“Given the existing circumstances, we are not hopeful that the provincial leaderships in Punjab and K-P would be of any help as far as pulling the crowd out to welcome Mian sahib and his daughter is concerned. We have governments in AJK and G-B and look forward to their support.”
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Election Commission of Pakistan’s former Secretary Kanwar Dilshad said Caretaker Prime Minister Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk and Caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Dr Hasan Askari should take steps to prevent the use of AJK and G-B’s state machineries to welcome the Sharifs.
“Nawaz Sharif and his daughter are sentenced by an accountability court. This means they are now declared criminals. The government should take steps to prevent caravans from entering into Lahore from AJK, G-B and other areas to welcome them.”
Dilshad added, “All this is being done to prevent the Sharifs from getting arrested. In light of NAB’s relevant laws, convicted persons have to surrender before the authorities concerned and get arrested before filing appeals in the Islamabad High Court against the conviction and to get bail.”
He said when Sharif was the prime minister and his younger brother Shehbaz was the chief minister of Punjab, they had stopped the then K-P Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak from entering the federal capital at the height of the PTI sit-in in November 2016.
When contacted, senior PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, who is also a close aide of Shehbaz, denied that the PML-N was eyeing the support of the governments in AJK and G-B to welcome the deposed prime minister and his daughter.
“Workers from across Pakistan, AJK and G-B would assemble in Lahore. This has nothing to do with the governments. You will see public participation from across the country, AJK and G-B in Lahore to welcome their leader in his struggle to uphold the sanctity of ballot,” he told The Express Tribune.