Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s former prime minister, told an election rally on Friday night that the country’s army chief, General Qamar Bajwa, was responsible for toppling his government and installing Imran Khan as prime minister.
Addressing the first public rally of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the newly-formed joint opposition alliance, in Gujranwala via video link from London, Sharif accused army chief General Qamar Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt General Faiz Hameed of rigging elections, removing his government, muzzling the media, pressurising the judiciary, and victimising opposition politicians.
Several opposition leaders attended the PDM’s opening rally.
Much of Sharif’s speech was not covered by TV news channels due to a ban by the country’s broadcast regulator that disallowed the airing of speeches, statements and interviews of proclaimed offenders and absconders.
But the ban didn’t stop thousands of people from attending the PDM’s rally. One estimate put the number of people attending it at around 20,000.
“This is all your doing,” Sharif said, addressing Bajwa in his speech, adding, “I hold you responsible for all the mess you have created. We are seeing unemployment, unprecedented inflation. The ‘roti’ now costs ten rupees and medicine prices have reached new heights. People cannot afford to pay their electricity bills.”
Sharif added, “Call me a traitor. Call me a rebel. Make me a convict. Label me a hijacker. Seize my properties. File false cases against me, but Nawaz Sharif will continue to speak for his people.”
The former PM pointed out that dictators in Pakistan have repeatedly labelled politicians as traitors. “The army has accused most of those who fight for the constitution as traitors,” he said.
Recalling the past, Sharif said that Fatima Jinnah, often referred to as one of the founders of the country, had also been accused of being anti-state, and that since then, the trend has continued.
“Sheikh Mujib (Mujibur Rahman) was accused of being a traitor, and that led to the creation of Bangladesh. But the real traitor was General AAK Niazi, who surrendered shamelessly in Dhaka, but no one can calls him a traitor,” Sharif said.
Sharif said that during his time as prime minister, the government stood tall with the nuclear tests that it conducted in response to the tests carried out by India. “But we saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit us and talk to us (in 2015)”, he added.
Sharif told his audience that the comments of former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the visitors’ book at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore must be read. “What beautiful sentiments he expressed,” recalled Sharif, adding, “Wasn’t that a better Pakistan?”
Taking on the current PM, Sharif said that the source of the funding behind Khan’s property should be investigated. “We will investigate Imran Khan. We will investigate his sister Aleema Khan. We will investigate the dealings of General Asim Saleem Bajwa, who has made billions,” he said.
Pakistan Muslim League (N) vice-president Maryam Nawaz arrived at the rally in Gujranwala at around 9pm, local time, followed by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
Most political analysts in the country believe the PDM’s opening rally, held in an open stadium in Gujranwala in biting cold, was a success.