Sharifs finally home : • Jubilant welcome in Lahore • Nawaz vows to struggle for democracy • Demand for restoration of pre-November judiciary
By Ahmad Fraz Khan & Intikhab Hanif
LAHORE, Nov 25: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned to the country on Sunday to a tumultuous welcome and vowed to “continue his fight against dictatorship”.
In his brief address to highly charged PML-N workers at the airport, he said: “Pakistan was not created for dictators or emergencies. It was created for democracy and the rule of law. I am here to play my role in ridding the country of dictatorship and bringing back the rule of law.”
About boycotting the next elections, he said the All Parties Democratic Movement would assess the situation after the expiry of the four-day notice it had given to the government.
“But the movement is committed to democracy and constitutionalism. That is why it has demanded restoration of the judiciary to its pre-Nov 3 position.”
Mr Sharif, wearing Shalwar-Kameez and a black waistcoat, told the crowd that he had not come to the country under any deal. “My roots are among the masses and I will never ditch them. I will live and die for the people of Pakistan,” he said amid a thunderous applause and sloganeering.
Nawaz, who flew home this time with the government’s approval, said he had not returned to the country for politics of revenge but for taking it forward on the route to democracy and the rule of law and to fight for independence of the judiciary and end to the dictatorship.
The plane carrying Nawaz Sharif and his family, which was lent by the Saudi king, landed at the Lahore airport at 6.25pm. It took him around 40 minutes to reach the arrival lounge, where around 5,000 workers welcomed him.
Shahbaz Sharif was the first to emerge from the airport and was soon riding shoulders of enthusiastic workers. He did not address the workers and kept waving to them. Within minutes, Nawaz Sharif came out to lead the show.
The Airport Security Force and police personnel resorted to a mild baton-charge just before the arrival of the Sharifs when PML (N) workers, who had broken four rings of police around the airport, tried to go beyond the arrival lounge to receive their leader. The workers hurled empty mineral water and soft drink bottles on police and ASF personnel. One of the bottles hit a flight display board, shattering its glass.
According to the city police chief, the number of policemen manning the airport was 1,000, but independent observers put the number at three times the official count. Police had set up four rings within a three-kilometre radius of the airport. Their presence increased as the radius around the airport shrunk.
But the PML (N) workers succeeded in breaking through the barricades as their strength increased in the afternoon.
The police personnel were not rude or strict but they did succeed in stopping the PML (N) crowd from moving towards the airport. Those who were on foot were able to make it to the airport area and later beyond the police ring.
The entire leadership of the PLM (N) was at the airport.
Police detained thousands of the PML (N) supporters prior to their leaders’ arrival, according to party loyalists. But a throng of well-wishers clapped and danced as they waved portraits, placards and party flags as Mr Sharif emerged from the airport terminal.
“I have no lust for any post or power,” he told the crowd outside the terminal as he mopped his brow. He was carried aloft to a car for the drive into town.
Addressing a big gathering at 1am on his way to the Data Darbar, Mr Sharif said he would visit all the provinces to know the people’s views on elections. He said this after a majority of the people at the gathering had called for a boycott of the elections.
He thanked the Saudi king for his return. “The king had made it clear to Musharraf that I (Nawaz) would have to return now,” he said.