Prominent cleric and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Tahirul Qadri, who returned to Pakistan early Tuesday to "seek justice" for the victims of the 2014 Model Town killings, addressed a large gathering in Lahore's Nasir Bagh later in the afternoon.
The gathering of various political party leaders at Nasir Bagh, including the Awami Muslim League's Sheikh Rashid, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) Chaudhry Sarwar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Qadri came a day before Nawaz's two-day long planned procession from Islamabad to his hometown of Lahore.
During his lengthy diatribe against the ruling party and its leadership, the focal point of the gathering, Qadri heavily criticised the Sharif family, accusing them of undermining democracy and protecting the culprits behind the Model Town incident, which resulted in the killing of 14 people, including PAT workers, in clashes with police in Lahore's Model Town on June 17, 2014
Police said PAT protesters had "resisted operations", leading to a clash.
The PAT later registered an FIR against 21 people, including then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for the killings and staged an anti-government protest alongside the PTI.
"The person who was removed from power asks 'what was my mistake?'. I ask him of the June 17, 2014 Model Town incident: what was the mistake of the 14 people who were killed and the hundred others who were injured?" Qadri asked on Tuesday. "You were extremely cruel and heartless in the way you killed those people," he added.
"[Punjab Chief Minister] Shahbaz Sharif [himself] ordered the formation of the commission [which probed the Model Town killings] headed by Justice Baqir," he recalled.
"He [Shahbaz] said: 'If they point a finger towards me, I will resign'. The commission's report put it's entire hand on your head, saying that Shahbaz Sharif and the Punjab government are behind the killings," Qadri recalled.
"Between then and now, you have only suppressed the commission's report [from being made public]," he claimed.
Contents of the report, which the government in 2014 termed "secret", said decisions taken at a meeting presided over by then Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah before the incident had led to the bloodshed in Model Town.
However, in 2015, a government-formed joint investigation team had exonerated Shahbaz and Sanaullah from charges of ordering or abetting the police action.
Qadri on the Panamagate verdict
"The Supreme Court gave you [Nawaz Sharif] 273 days to prove yourselves innocent ... You gave speeches to the people and in Parliament and at every turn, you lied and fooled the people," Qadri said.
"You lied in the SC, you submitted fake documents and papers. If someone submits fake papers or lies to the court, they can be jailed for up to seven years," he said.
"Today, you tell the people you were mistreated. The truth is, the SC was soft on you. They could have slapped handcuffs on you then and thrown you into jail for seven years, but they only declared you dishonest and removed you from power. Be thankful they did not send you to jail," he asserted.
"If you had any honour, you would bow your head in shame and sit at home for a few months. Instead, it is the height of stubbornness that instead of hiding at home in shame, you are thinking of rallying on GT Road and coming here.
"I have never seen such a shameless person," he said.
"If you have any guts, then speak openly. Who has shown heavy-handedness with you? Who are you protesting against?" he asked Nawaz, referring to allegations from the PML-N that the SC verdict was a 'conspiracy' against it.
"Think, Nawaz and Shahbaz, how is it beyond the democratic mandate that you have been declared unfit to rule, dishonest, and pushed out of power?"
"Despite all this, the person who you nominated, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, is prime minister today. What other form of democracy exists? Even today, the government is yours, the PM is your PM. The ministers are yours, power is yours, and you say no one respects the mandate in this democracy?" he observed.
"They did not break your assemblies or steal the right to rule from you — the SC made a decision according to the Constitution and gave you permission to form a new government. Your reaction shows that it is you who doesn't believe in democracy," he said.
"If you and your [Sharif] family are in power, only then it is [considered a] democracy. But if your family is removed ─ even if the party is yours ─ you don't accept it as democracy."
"Rule over hearts all you want, but for the love of God, please leave Pakistan alone," Qadri added.
Model Town tragedy
"For three years, we have been seeking justice and our appeals are pending before the courts. I request the same JIT [that disqualified the PM] to probe Model Town. For three years, the case has not even been heard. Is this justice? Your [Nawaz's] case was heard for 273 days, and then you say that you have been dealt with cruelly," Qadri complained.
"In this case, you shot at 114 people, 14 of whom died. The massacre began at midnight and went on till noon the next day. All of Pakistan's TV channels showed the brutality. They showed bodies falling, blood flowing and people being beaten. The entire nation saw it. But of the 126 police officers involved, not one went to jail," he alleged.
"You think having power and doing whatever you want is democracy? That the law is only for the weak? You will have to answer for this," he asserted. "If you have heard my speech, then hopefully you will cancel your plans for the 'show' on GT Road."
"I ask the judiciary to raise the curtain on the murderers of these 14 people. The first step is to make the JIT report public," he added.
The PAT chief then went onto ask his followers if they were prepared to stay and "welcome" Nawaz Sharif to Lahore in a "peaceful manner".
"If Nawaz Sharif comes on GT Road, you will welcome him peacefully. You will welcome this son of sharif parents, and place 14 bodies before him."
"It will be peaceful," he repeated. "Not one leaf or plant should be hurt, no one will be stoned, there will not be any swearing. Can you protest peacefully and welcome him with a gift of 14 bodies and congratulate him on his achievements?"
"If he had an iota of sense, he would have resigned when the [Panamagate] case was before the SC, dissolved the assemblies and announced a new election. He may even have won through cheating," he claimed.
"Now the Sharif family is on one side, and all the families of Pakistan on the other side," he said.
"When we held protests, they would say development and progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be affected. But if they do the same, it is permitted," he observed.
"They have been reared by the army and [Gen] Ziaul Haq [...] And they go around spitting insults at those who raised them," he alleged.
If his followers agreed to "welcome" Nawaz Sharif, Qadri said he would "have to tell the administration, police and security agencies that the matter is now out of my hands".
He reiterated that the protest must be peaceful, "like Islamabad, with no fighting or bloodshed."
However, he nonetheless warned Sharif, "If I let my workers loose, nothing will remain of you. These people, whatever age they may be, they will be ready to act on any orders I give."
Sheikh Rashid's speech
Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid, in an earlier speech at the same gathering, alleged that Nawaz Sharif's GT Road procession was an attempt by the ousted prime minister to seek a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) from the army.
The 'historic' procession is believed to be an attempt by the PML-N to garner much-needed political mileage in the face of the challenges the government is facing. Nawaz denies the procession is "a protest", instead terming it "a journey back home" that he is undertaking because "risks need to be taken for the country".
Rashid, in his speech, alleged that "Nawaz Sharif is asking the army for an NRO, for a way out, so that his references [to be heard in accountability courts] are not tried."
"The procession and rally are being held for one reason only ─ that they should be granted an NRO," he asserted.
The NRO was a controversial ordinance promulgated by former president Pervez Musharraf which granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats accused of corruption, embezzlement, money launder, murder and terrorism.
"Whoever gives Nawaz Sharif a way out, whoever lets him off easy, whoever prevents him from being presented to institutions, the entire nation will stand before him," Rashid thundered.
He asked his audience: "You will stand before them, won't you?"
"If even a poor man's son dies on GT Road, an FIR will be lodged against you, Nawaz and Shahbaz, for bringing the people out there," he warned.
Last year, in the run-up to the PTI's planned Nov 2 'lockdown' of Islamabad, the party had blamed the PML-N government for the suspected deaths of PTI workers who, when called to protest by the PTI, were subjected to teargas shelling in Swabi by law enforcement officials attempting to control the crowd.
At the time, allegations were raised that the PTI's claims of workers' deaths during the protest were a ruse by the party to build pressure on the government and maintain momentum for its 'lockdown', with a PTI official later clarifying to Dawn.com that the situation had been 'misread'.
"My last challenge is for Shahid Khaqan Abbasi," Rashid said. "If I can't prove that you cut the most expensive LNG deal in the world, then I will leave Pakistani politics forever."
Qureshi asks PAT workers to 'make difficult decisions'
PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in his address to PAT supporters, said: "Your murderers are coming to Lahore tomorrow. The question is: will you sit still, or will you make difficult decisions?"
"From what I have witnessed in the past, I know you are capable of taking difficult decisions and sticking to them."
"You people do not hesitate like the Qatari prince," he said. "He does not come to court, but the people's courtroom has been set up today," he said, shouting slogans of "qaatil, qaatil" (murderer, murderer), to which the rally-goers responded: "Shahbaz [Sharif] qaatil".
Posing a rhetorical question to the people, Qureshi asked: "Does the blood of a common Pakistani woman have less value than your [PML-N's] daughters?"
"They kept saying that they respect the Supreme Court and the JIT, but when the unanimous decision came against them, they started speaking against these institutions," he claimed.
"They talk about how there is a conspiracy against them now," he said. "Who is conspiring against them?" he thundered. "Who?" he questioned.
"You are coming to Lahore tomorrow," Qureshi said, addressing the ousted premier, "But those 14 dead people are still waiting for you to provide them justice," he said.
"You have two options available to you for when they arrive tomorrow," Qureshi told those gathered.
"You should not take the the law in your own hands, but tell me, is it unjust of you to demand justice from the leaders of the time? Is asking for justice against the teachings of Islam?" he asked.
"Will you struggle for justice?" Qureshi asked, to which the crowd responded, "We will."
"There are judges yet in our courts who answer only to God. We have our hopes pinned on them, we hope they will bring you justice," he said.
"This caravan that they are bringing to Lahore, it is a conspiracy against democracy. In such times, I would like to ask you, the people of PAT and PTI, to remain calm, to not resort to violence and to not take the law into your own hands," he said.