HARIPUR, Pakistan — The most dangerous man in Pakistan — to be near, at least — arrived at the campaign rally, but there was no bulletproof screen to protect him.

Nawaz Sharif, a two-time former prime minister, did not appear to care much. He spoke anyway, calling for the reinstatement of judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf. At the next rally, the screen and the metal podium were set up, but Sharif's head poked up three inches above the top of the glass.

"The times have changed so much," Sharif told the crowd in Attock, grabbing the green screen. "I have to use this screen. Where has Musharraf taken us, that we have to use such things?"

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27, Sharif became the leading national opposition leader in Pakistan, even though the government has banned him from running for parliament on charges his party says are bogus. Many believe he has become a major target for extremists or anyone else who might want to disrupt Monday's parliamentary elections, a vote that could doom the current government and Musharraf, who seized power from Sharif in a bloodless military coup in 1999.

Aides to Sharif worry that the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, will not allow elections to proceed, especially in light of polls suggesting that both the party and Musharraf have lost popularity. In the days leading up to the elections, many voters have speculated that Sharif could be attacked while campaigning for candidates in his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Indeed, the government has warned politicians not to hold large rallies because of the risk, and insists that it is providing as much security as possible.

But the security given to Sharif by the government merely underscored the vulnerability of almost any politician on the campaign trail. Before his rallies Friday, someone in Sharif's security detail sent him off in a low-profile small caravan that ended up in traffic jams on narrow, bumpy roads.

"It was not enough security," Sharif said. "I don't think it was a good decision."

Sometimes the bulletproof glass is sent to Sharif's rallies by police; sometimes it is not. Sometimes the jammers that are supposed to disrupt mobile-phone signals work, potentially foiling communications among would-be attackers; sometimes they do not.

Sharif was mobbed when he tried to step out of his bulletproof vehicle and made his security detail bounce like pinballs as they tried to get in between him and well-wishers.

Campaigning has been punctuated by bombs and shootings. Many analysts and voters say that voter turnout will be low, largely because of threats of violence. A low turnout would likely benefit Musharraf, analysts say.


Elections were first postponed after the unrest that followed Bhutto's assassination. A week later, the government warned Sharif and other leaders that their lives had been threatened by Islamic militants.

In the past 12 days, the Awami National Party, a secular Pashtun party, was attacked three times — two bombs targeted rallies in the restive North-West Frontier Province, and the vice president in southern Sindh province was shot dead.

"I personally feel the government has failed completely," said Bushra Gohar, a senior vice president of the Awami National Party in Peshawar. "They want to create chaos so these elections can be delayed. They've tried every step to have not free and fair elections. I find they're now hitting below the belt."

In Pakistan, where campaigns are not yet run through TV, pressing the flesh is a job requirement. Candidates traditionally win voters by holding rallies of tens and hundreds of thousands of people, and even slow-moving rallies along roads. After Bhutto's death, politicians were not sure how to run for office anymore. In early January, Sharif responded to a question about how he would campaign safely by saying he did not know, and asked the journalist for advice.

Most candidates decided to hold rallies with little notice, featuring short speeches and small crowds. The government did not provide much security even to leading politicians, who were mainly left to their own resources, forced to find their own armored cars and trusted security guards.

The rallies have sometimes had an ominous feel. At one of the two rallies held by Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, he could not be seen from the crowd because of the glare off the green bulletproof glass.

The crowd for him in Faisalabad on Thursday was held back by barbed-wire and a wood fence, about 40 feet from the stage, and about 20 bodyguards stood in front of the stage, pointing guns toward the crowd and scanning for threats. Bhutto never allowed armed bodyguards.

"We are really worried about our safety," said Malik Muhammad Shabir, an official with Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party in Faisalabad. "People are not turning up in big numbers because they are scared."

The government has been blamed for playing on those fears. Just before Zardari's rally, a news flash was put out on TV stations, warning that a suicide bomber had entered the city.

At a rally for pro-government politician and prime minister hopeful Pervaiz Elahi, also warned of militant threats, armed police lined the route from the town square to where he spoke.

Sharif, 58, who has spoken out more strongly against Musharraf than other politicians, is somewhat relaxed about any threat to his safety, even though his rally was shot at and four people were killed on Dec. 27, just before Bhutto's assassination.

Sharif appears to be on a personal mission against Musharraf, whom he blames for most of the country's ills. The feeling is likely mutual, as Musharraf seized power after Sharif tried to sack him.

Sharif's aides try to arrange stealth rallies — set up with only 12 hours' notice. Because of this, they say, not as many people can come as would want to.

"We're not giving them time to prepare," said Khawaja Imran Raza, personal secretary to Sharif. "We're not giving any advertisements, we're not telling our routes, we're not having any major rally, just because of security. In this environment of fear, dictatorship thrives."