ISLAMABAD: A defiant Nawaz Sharif today criticised the judiciary for forcing him to quit as prime minister, saying it was an "insult" to 200 million people of Pakistan that their elected leader was unceremoniously ousted with a single stroke of pen.
A five-member Supreme Court bench last month disqualified Sharif for dishonesty and ruled that corruption cases be filed against him and his children over the Panama Papers scandal, forcing the prime minister to quit for the record third time.
"It is an insult to 20 crore people of Pakistan. You voted for me and 'five honourable' (judges) with a single stroke of pen sent me home," 67-year-old Sharif told his supporters in Jhelum on the second day of his journey from Islamabad to Lahore via the Grand Trunk (GT) Road.
"There is no charge of corruption or embezzlement. May I ask why I have been ousted?" the former prime minister asked.
Sharif said that it was pity that none of the prime ministers in the 70-year history of the country have been allowed to complete their tenure.
"Every prime minister in this country was given one-anda-half-year tenure, on average, to govern. Some were executed, some jailed, some handcuffed, and some exiled," he said.
On the other hand, dictators were allowed to rule for decades and the judges even allowed them to rule, Sharif said.
"Is there any court in the country to hold a dictator accountable? One of them (Gen Pervez Musharraf) went out for medical treatment of his backache but never came back to face cases," he said.
Sharif said that every time the country is pulled back when it reaches at a takeoff stage.
"This country cannot go like this. The country was making progress. We were making progress and once again it has strangled," he told his supporters amidst chants of 'wazir-iazam Nawaz Sharif' (prime minister Nawaz Sharif).
Sharif said he was not seeking restoration but his struggle was to institute "respect for the mandate of the people".
"You sent me to Islamabad but they (judges) have sent me back to home," he said.
In a bold move, Sharif climbed on an open stage to deliver the speech instead of addressing his supporters through his bomb-proof special vehicle.
Sharif would stay in Jhelum tonight and would resume his onward journey to Lahore tomorrow morning.
Earlier, Sharif started his journey from Rawalpindi this afternoon after overnight stay in the garrison city. He also held a meeting with party leaders before starting the travel.
Sharif addressed a huge rally in downtown Rawalpindi, after starting his journey from Islamabad to Lahore to project his political strength.
Sources in Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said that Sharif was unhappy with the turnout and asked party leaders to make more targeted efforts to bring out the supporters.
PML-N leaders are in the process of making arrangements for more supporters to attend the rally.
Sharif's convoy moved at very fast pace from Rawalpindi to Jhelum, at times speeding at 120 kms per hour. That is why he reached Jhelum before the expected time.
The movement was in stark contrast to yesterday's travel from Islamabad to Rawalpindi, when he took more than 12 hours to cover about 30-km distance which takes about half an hour in normal circumstances.
He asked the people to make a pledge to guard their mandate so that elected representative are not removed through undemocratic ways. "Make a promise that you would get your mandate respected. Promise me you won't allow your prime minister to be humiliated this way," he said.
He warned his supporters that their elected leaders would again be sacked in future if "you do not protect your rights".
"It has happened with me for the third time. Is this not an insult to your vote?" he said.
He criticised the apex court verdict, saying the judges said there was no charge of corruption, then asked why he had been disqualified if there is no case of misappropriation.
"I leave this for history to determine," said Sharif.
He posed a question to the gathering, if they accept the decision. The public responded with big "No".
"This gathering here serves as a referendum. The court of the people of Pakistan has given its verdict in my favour," he said.
Sharif also said that he respects the decision despite serious reservations. "I am going home and I do not want you to get me restored. But I want you to stand with me for the development and betterment of the country," he said.