ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan on Monday announced a new date — November 2 — for his party’s planned siege of the capital city, ramping up pressure on the government to take concrete measures to address the party’s concerns over the Panamagate affair.
This, he said, would be his final showdown with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and members of his family implicated in the Panama Papers scandal, adding that there would be no follow-up rallies.
“The prime minister will either have to present himself for accountability, or he will have to resign. The PTI will not go back until it achieves one of these goals,” he told reporters from his Bani Gala residence.
While the exact plan of action for Nov 2 has yet to be revealed, Mr Khan said that his party would “lock down Islamabad city on Wednesday afternoon”.
Protest date changed due to clash with SCBA elections
The announcement came as the party stepped up its mobilisation drive for the siege of Islamabad, amid fears that the government might try to prevent the party from gaining massive support by blocking entry to the capital.
However, Mr Khan was clear that following the revelations contained in the Panama Papers, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family had been caught red-handed. Therefore, the PTI has decided to go the whole way in its efforts to bring the ruling family to book.
When asked about Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s weekend announcement of a long march against the government if it refused investigations into the Panama Papers leaks, Mr Khan said the PPP chairman was talking about Dec 27, which, “I think will be too late”.
He explained that the earlier date for the PTI’s Islamabad show — Oct 30 — was primarily changed due to a clash with the annual elections of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), scheduled to be held on Oct 31. The decision was made after Hamid Khan, a senior party leader who also heads an influential group of lawyers, conveyed the concerns of his fraternity.
Prior to the press conference, Mr Khan held a detailed sitting with the top PTI leadership, where they discussed ways to make their planned siege of the capital a successful one. Mr Khan has already said that he plans to cripple the government by not allowing government officials to reach their offices.
‘Blocking access to offices’
When asked, a senior PTI office-bearer told Dawn that the thrust of the lock-down strategy was to block access to all government offices.
“We will not let government employees reach their offices, besides blocking all entry and exit points to government buildings,” the leader said. He explained that special measures would be taken to ensure that the movement of ambulances and funeral processions, for example, were not impeded.
In response to a question, the PTI leader — who didn’t want be quoted on the record — said that the meeting also discussed the difficulties locals would certainly face during the lockdown. “We have decided to address that as well,” he said.
For example, PTI workers will not create any hurdles for people on their daily commute.
However, for the party’s detractors, it will be very difficult to keep a large gathering disciplined for any extended period of time. At Monday’s press conference, Mr Khan said the PTI had tried its best to highlight the issue of corruption to ensure that investigations are held into the Panama Papers leaks.
“Unfortunately, in Pakistan, laws are only implemented against the weak.”
He expressed his disappointment with how parliament, the speaker’s office and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had failed to play their due role in forcing the government to conduct a free and fair inquiry into the leaks.
“Pakistan is being ruled by a culprit and we want to hold him accountable. Instead of supporting us in our rightful demands, PTI detractors accuse us of trying to derail democracy and [endangering] the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.”
The PTI leader warned the government that in case they launched a crackdown on his party workers or created other hurdles in their way, the responsibility for the consequences would lie entirely on the government’s shoulders. “The PTI is more organised than it was in 2014 and is fully capable of facing any challenge.” As of now, he said, the PTI is only pushing for accountability. In case of a confrontation, the government might have to “go home”.
Pervaiz Rashid, the minister for information and the government’s official spokesperson, was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2016