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Lahore rally yields no concrete plan to oust Sharifs

Updated January 18, 2018

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PAKISTAN Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri and Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari addressing the public meeting on Wednesday.—M. Arif / White Star
PAKISTAN Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri and Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari addressing the public meeting on Wednesday.—M. Arif / White Star

LAHORE: The joint opposition’s gathering to seek ouster of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government ended abruptly on Wednesday after Sheikh Rashid’s repeated cursing of parliament and announcement of resignation from his National Assembly seat prompted Imran Khan to consider quitting the assemblies on the grounds that parliament had lost its utility in protecting people’s rights.

The announcement of resignation by Mr Rashid and Mr Khan’s indication to follow suit drew interesting remarks from PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz when she tweeted: “Oh Lord, those who gathered to demand resignations are now offering resignations.”

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman also advised Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri not to let the protest run out of steam and continue building pressure on the government if he wanted results.

Later the PAT chief, winding up the daylong activity, said that the joint opposition would hold a meeting in the next two days and finalise a plan of action for future protest strategy. His assertion, however, flew in the face of his earlier promises which said that a steering committee of opposition parties would meet in the container after the rally and decide about the next phase of the protest.

Splitting of gathering in two sessions and absence of charter of demands give impression that opposition is not fully united

The PAT chief was also expected to come up with a consensus “charter of demands” that the government would have to meet. The absence of the meeting of the steering committee and the charter of demands only fuelled rumours that the joint opposition was not fully united. Splitting of the rally in two sessions, one chaired by Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif Ali Zardari and other presided over by Imran Khan, had generated such rumours.

Earlier, in his address Mr Khan took the Sharifs to task, saying that they had destroyed all institutions and services due to personal reasons. Since they had been using police for political reasons, they were not ready to let the force work independently, he alleged. During the last 10 years, they had spent over Rs750 billion on police but law and order situation had not improved, he said. “It was because police are serving the house of the Sharifs, not the people of Pakistan.”

Presiding over the first session, Asif Zardari also lambasted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Referring to Mr Sharif’s recent speech on Balo­chistan wherein he likened the situation in the province to that leading to creation of Bangladesh, Mr Zardari said that the only “threat to Pakistan is from Mujibur Rehman of Jati Umra [Nawaz Sharif’s residence].

Questioning Mr Sharif’s patriotism, the PPP leader said that the former could go to any length to save his ill-gotten wealth and promote his self-interest.

“He is still dreaming of greater Punjab which can serve as a platform for his flourishing friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narindra Modi.”

Mr Zardari said that Mujibur Rehman had dismembered Pakistan and Mr Sharif was saying that he was being turned into a Mujibur Rehman.

The PPP leader reminded Mr Sharif that he had never faced hostility like he (Zardari) and Benazir Bhutto had done. “But she and I always talked about strengthening Pakistan, not weakening it.”

Pak Sarzameen Party chief Mustafa Kamal also spoke at the rally.

The political impact of the joint opposition’s rally was evident in the city as it appeared to have temporarily revived its history of being a political hub. Since morning, almost all city roads witnessed small flag-bearing rallies moving towards the venue of the rally on the Mall. Carrying flags that covered almost the entire political spectrum of the country, the participants, raising slogans, turned the city into a big political theatre. All major roads leading to the venue of the rally were festooned by banners and panaflexes of political parties and personalities, giving the city a festive look.

Though there was huge political hustle and bustle in the city, the actual attendance in the rally left much to be desired. It was also because all political workers came to the venue of the rally when their own leaders were speaking and left as soon as their leader finished their speeches. The attendance built up only when the PTI chairman entered the scene.

There was strict security in and around the venue with more than 6,500 policemen protecting the 2km radius of the rally. Rangers’ personnel were protecting sensitive buildings like the Punjab Assembly, Chief Minister House and Wapda House around the venue.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2018