The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) rally at Lahore's Mochi Gate kicked off on Sunday as planned, despite Punjab government's refusal to issue a permit for the event.
During the gathering it was announced that PTM will now hold a rally in Karachi on May 12 to condemn the violence that the city witnessed in 2007.
Among those who took the rostrum were Tahera Jalib — daughter of revolutionary poet Habib Jalib — who read out Dastoor, a famous poem of her father; and Amina Masood Janjua of the Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, whose husband has been missing since 2005.
Advocate Fazal Khan, father of a student martyred in the 2014 Army Public School attack, also spoke at the event, repeating his demand of formation a judicial commission to investigate the attack.
Awami Workers Party President Fanoos Gujjar, while addressing the crowd, said: "Yesterday when PTM leaders were arrested, we were asked: 'There is peace in Lahore and you are anti-state traitors. What will the traitors do here? Pakhtuns here are studying and conducting trade, why are you taking their peace away?'"
He went on to claim that Pakhtuns in Punjab face atrocities at the hands of the Punjab police which extorts money from labourers, and that many people are still being picked up in broad daylight from Lahore.
PTM's central leader Ali Wazir said, "The movement has come to Lahore so that if something [untoward] happens in the future, nobody can say 'You never reached out to us'."
Manzoor Pashteen addresses charged crowd
Manzoor Pashteen then took to the stage, saying it was the PTM's "heartfelt wish" to present the situation hidden from the media and the eyes of the public to the people of Lahore.
He explained why the PTM had included the arrest of Rao Anwar and recovery of missing persons in their demands.
He said the whole country had seen the result of PTM's first demand: the arrest of former SSP Malir Rao Anwar. "Now even the court is saying Anwar is a terrorist and Waziristan native Naqeebullah Mehsud, who was shot dead in a police encounter, has been declared innocent."
He then narrated stories of innocent people who were killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) without naming who was responsible for their deaths.
"When they can sell 4,000 people, they can do a lot more," Pashteen said, referring to a recent claim by Justice Javed Iqbal, the head of the missing persons commission, who had accused former president Pervez Musharraf of handing over 4,000 Pakistanis to United States.
"We demand that we should be told the amount for which they [missing persons] were sold. We will collect that money and give it to you so you can bring them back. Do not release them, just give them to the courts if they have committed a crime."
He also demanded that first information reports against students in Lahore, who are PTM supporters, should be withdrawn. "We are very peaceful but do not forget that we are young, and young people do not have a lot of patience."
"Now that we have risen up against oppression, we do not fear for our heads," the PTM leader asserted.
Pashteen announced that the next stop for the movement would be Swat following which a gathering would be held in Karachi on May 12 — to mark the day when over 40 people were killed in the metropolis in 2007.
He also took on the media, which he said was covering the PTM in a biased manner. "We respect you, but you are being hypocritical."
The district administration had earlier rejected an application by the Lahore Left Front for the PTM rally citing security concerns.
Ali Wazir, one of the main PTM leaders, had earlier appealed to Lahore's residents to join the gathering to learn about the ordeal residents experienced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He said the gathering was aimed at uniting the exploited and oppressed masses of KP and Punjab in general, and highlighting woes of ordinary Pashtun labourers in Lahore in particular.
Punjab police officials — both male and female — provided security at the venue to ensure that no one entered the ground with weapons or sharp objects.
A number of PTM leaders were briefly detained on Saturday while workers found the venue of the rally flooded with water when they arrived to kickstart preparations today. Both the instances, the PTM claims, were attempts to coerce them into not holding the rally.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Haider Ashraf on Sunday denied arresting any PTM leaders, saying they had only been called to the police headquarters to negotiate on security for the event as the district administration has refused them permission to hold the rally. They were later released after 3-4 hours.
A day earlier on Saturday, DIG Ashraf had said the PTM leaders had been engaged to get affidavits that they would not take part in any anti-state activity.
The refusal of Punjab government to grant permission to the PTM for its rally, combined with the detention of its workers, was criticised by Maryam Nawaz, Senator Pervaiz Rasheed and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, all of whom backed the movement's right to protest.
The Lahore rally had been announced earlier this month when the movement held its first power show in Peshawar, demanding all missing persons be produced in courts and provision of basic rights to the people of Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Bilawal, Maryam back PTM's right to protest
PML-N's leaders Maryam Nawaz and Senator Pervaiz Rasheed both said that the rally should have been allowed while Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also condemned the "high-handedness and disregard for the constitutional rights of the people" shown by the Shahbaz Sharif-led provincial government.
In a tweet early Sunday, Maryam said that the arrested activists should be released and the PTM should be allowed to hold its rally. "This country is as much their's as it is our's," she said.
"Attempts to suppress voices rising against oppression and excesses can never have never been successful, nor will they ever be," she added.
In his statement, Senator Rasheed said that the ban on the rally was a painful act and that the Punjab government should not only listen to the pain and misery of the protesters but also play their part in alleviating them. "This is not the time to repeat bitterness of the past, but to learn from them and strengthen national unity."
Bilawal, in a tweet, said that every Pakistani citizen has a right to protest and "PTM are no different", concluding with #VoterKoIzzatDo, in a reference to PML-N's slogan demanding respect for vote.