Powerful blast in Lahore days before ousted Pakistani PM Sharif’s rally

Irshad Salim — A powerful blast in Lahore – the capital of Pakistan’s largest province, injured more than 46 people, of them four critical, days before the Supreme Court-disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif gears up to travel to the city from capital Islamabad in a motorcade as a show of strength.

The explosion occurred in a truck at a parking stand in the metropolis on Monday evening and left a 10 to 15 feet crater on the spot.

According to police authorities, the truck had brought in crates of apricot from Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the city in Punjab. The truck had been at the bus-stand for the last three days.

Authorities have yet to ascertain the exact route of the truck from Swat to Lahore.

Officials said a huge cache of explosives had been stored in the truck.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Dr Haider Ashraf said the attackers might have been intending to transport the explosives to other areas of the city.

Some officials said they feared the explosives-laden truck might have been arranged to target the caravan of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif who was earlier scheduled to arrive in the city on Sunday from Islamabad. His rally would have passed by the point as per the earlier plan.

Lord Mayor Mubashir Javed told reporters they would investigate the blast from all angles. He said under the Sunday rally plan, the blast site was on the route of Mr Sharif’s rally.

According to Online news agency, Shehbaz arrived on a whirlwind tour of Islamabad and Rawalpindi on Monday where he met the deposed prime minister Sharif, who plans to travel to Lahore in a procession via GT Road on Tuesday.

He reportedly conveyed to Sharif, who is also his elder brother, the concerns of security agencies about the GT Road rally.

He advised Sharif that in case he uses GT Road to travel to Lahore, he should stay in his vehicle and not come out too many times.

Shehbaz also told Sharif that he should not go out of the security box provided by the security agencies.

Citing sources, the local daily newspaper Express Tribune affiliated with the New York Times, report that security agencies have decided to request Sharif till the last moment to give up GT Road and instead use the Rawalpindi-Lahore Motorway.

Shehbaz also briefed Sharif about the assessment of the intelligence agencies that his travel to Lahore in a big procession could be perilous, sources said.

Sources also said the PML-N top leadership will make the final decision on whether or not Sharif should use GT Road.

Lahore Police will reportedly deploy 10,000 police officials including 2,000 traffic wardens to provide security and maintain flow of traffic during the visit of the former premier to his political base and bastion of ruling party PML-N, “in what is seen as a desperate bid to exhibit public support for the deposed premier,” wrote the influential English newspaper Express Tribune.

Sharif maintains he has been handed out selective justice calling the Panamagate-related verdict “a joke”.

After a brief silence that lasted for around a week, the deposed PM started issuing hard-hitting statements showing his dissatisfaction with the verdict.

Analysts say Mr. Sharif is throwing the gauntlet back at his challengers, report The New York Times.

“One word defines him: defiance,” said Murtaza Solangi, a veteran journalist and talk-show host. “Going back to people is his recipe of rebirth and revival.”

Public poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan before the apex court’s verdict showed a divided nation with razor-thin majority saying they favored Nawaz Sharif’s resigning from politics.

In Saudi Arabia where the largest populace of overseas Pakistanis lives, a snap poll through WhatsApp among 100 non-politically affiliated individuals showed an overwhelming majority (90 percent) of them did not consider PM Sharif’s resignation bad for democracy in Pakistan.

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