LAHORE: Pakistan's ruling PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif has kicked off the election campaign, saying his party will go to polls not against any political party but "hidden forces" that were behind his ouster as prime minister, in an apparent reference to the powerful military and judiciary.
The PML-N launched the first phase of its election campaign in Punjab province of 10 million people. In the first two weeks of May the Nawaz's party will hold 13 rallies across the province. Only one month is left before the current government's tenure ends.
Addressing PML-N's first rally in Sahiwal (some 200 kms from Lahore) last evening, Sharif said: "In the coming general elections our competition will not be against any political party like that of Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan Peoples' Party or Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf but against the hidden forces." Sharif, 68, said the PML-N has to defeat the 'conspirators' who have no respect for the ballot.
"Our competition is with those forces that are not visible on the ground, but everybody knows about them in the country. If someone votes for Imran, Zardari or independent candidates he will actually be voting for those forces (military establishment)," said Sharif, who was disqualified as prime minister in the Panama Papers case by Supreme Court in July last. Subsequently, he was handed down life ban for parliamentary politics.
Hitting out at the military establishment further, Sharif said: "These forces have damaged Pakistan during the past 70 years. Enough is enough. Now we have to change Pakistan by giving respect to the ballot and people's mandate. The PML-N will restore people's mandate."
The powerful army, which enjoys considerable influence over policy decisions in Pakistan, has ruled the country for much of its life since it gained independence 70 years ago.
Sharif said the 2018 elections would draw a line between those who "took orders from the top (military establishment) and those who refused to take dictation from the hidden forces."
He asked the people to shun politics of those who were "tools in the hands of others." Sharif, who along with his children is facing three corruption references on money laundering and possessing huge assets abroad, said the court does not seem to be satisfied with the decision to oust him in the Panama case."One after the other, decisions are coming against the Sharif family."
Taking 'unannounced' censorship on the Pakistani media by the "hidden forces", Sharif said: "I know the media is under pressure. I strongly condemn such forces which are pressuring the media. I know from where orders are coming to pressure the media."