"I am the son of the soil, Maryam is the daughter of the soil," former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif said on Saturday as he indirectly anointed his daughter Maryam as his political heir.
Nawaz Sharif, 73, was addressing a mammoth rally at Minar-e-Pakistan here this evening soon after he returned earlier to Pakistan ending four years of self-imposed exile in the UK.
Making an emotional appeal to the cheering crowds, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo said, "I have served the country with loyalty whenever I was given a chance to resolve the issues facing Pakistan. I never hesitated from any sacrifice." He went on to mention how he regretted the "false cases" against him, (his brother and former foreign minister) Shehbaz, Maryam, and other PML-N leaders and then claimed "his relationship with the nation is the same as when he left the country," and that he was proud to see "loyalty in the eyes of his people." "They (the authorities) came to arrest her. This brave girl faced the imminent threat," Nawaz Sharif said, adding, "I am the son of the soil. My daughter, Maryam, she is the daughter of the soil too," he proclaimed to the louder cheering of the gathering.
Earlier, in a rare public display of affection for his daughter, Nawaz Sharif had embraced his weeping daughter soon after he climbed the stage at the rally grounds.
Maryam, 49, is PML-N's senior vice president.
Nawaz Sharif came almost two hours later than the announced time of 5:30 pm. Till that time, Maryam held the fort from the podium for more than an hour as the restless crowds joined her in cheering their leader. Wearing a maroon traditional salwar kameez with the chunni never leaving her head, Maryam spoke extempore like a seasoned politician.
Interspersed with a mix of songs, she engaged the gathering with questions and asked them to answer. She thanked the people for showing their love and also kept on saying that it is now that the opposition will understand the real strength of Nawaz Sharif.
"I thought Minar-e-Pakistan was a huge venue. But little did I imagine that it would turn out to be small for PML-N supporters," she said and urged the gathering to give a rousing welcome to her father when he reached the venue.
Asserting that the vengeance that her party faced from opponents was "the greatest injustice," Maryam said, "You, the supporters of Nawaz Sharif are sincere. That is why Allah did not let Nawaz lose. Cruelty has been eradicated (today), spring is coming (again)." Minutes after the rally, PML-N's official X handle posted a small video clip showing Maryam and Humza Shehbaz (son of Shebaz Khan) together waving to the crowds with the caption: "Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz pulled off a spectacular event to welcome Nawaz Sharif." Social media was abuzz with both bouquets and brickbats for Maryam.
Incidentally, one of the firsts to commend her on X was Zulfi Bukhari, a leader of Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, who said, "I am glad to know that PML-N Senior Vice President Maryam Nawaz has found her place in the party as 'stage coordinator'," but also warned that she might also "destroy" it.