Islamabad, Aug. 31 (Reuters): A battle of wits between Pakistan’s military rulers and politicians hotted up today when former Premier Nawaz Sharif ditched his bid to fight elections in solidarity with former arch rival Benazir Bhutto who has been banned from running.
Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party said more than 600 of its activists were detained in her native Sindh province during the day for protesting against the rejection of her poll nomination yesterday.
It said they included candidates for the October 10 polls called by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Police confirmed 100 PPP members were detained in the southern city of Karachi and a dozen in Ratto Dero, the southern town where Bhutto’s nomination was rejected on the grounds of her July conviction for failing to return from self-imposed exile in Britain to answer corruption charges.
Sharif, also living in exile, was a bitter rival of Bhutto when they alternated in the role of Premier in the 1990s.
He had his nomination approved on Thursday, even though he has also been threatened with arrest by Musharraf if he returns to Pakistan.
Sharif was ousted by Musharraf in a coup in October 1999. In a statement, Sharif said he was bowing out to show solidarity with the people of Sindh.
“It is highly regrettable that the nomination papers of Benazir Bhutto, who hails from Sindh, and is leader of one of the two mainstream political parties have been rejected,” he said.
Sharif said while he would not contest the poll his Pakistan Muslim League would and called on democratic forces to unite against dictatorship.
“It is time that we forget all our past differences in order to stand as one and fight shoulder to shoulder to put Pakistan back on the path of democracy,” he said.