PML-N supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday accused the security establishment of being behind his ouster as prime minister and for "bringing Imran Khan into power".
Nawaz, via video link from London, was addressing the Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM) first power show in Gujranwala where top opposition leaders gathered to take forward their anti-government campaign.
His comments come less than a month after Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed in a meeting with key opposition figures had counselled them to refrain from dragging the military into political issues.
He questioned who made the state above a state and who was responsible for the two governments in this country, among other things, going on to name COAS Bajwa.
"This is your doing," he said.
He also named Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as being behind everything.
"You can label me a traitor if you want, seize my properties, file false cases against me [...] but Nawaz Sharif will continue to speak for his people."
This is not the first time that Nawaz has gone after the military leadership; during the opposition’s multiparty conference last month, Nawaz had bitterly criticised the army, saying there was “a state above the state in the country”. However, he had refrained from naming anyone.
Criticism of govt
Nawaz blasted the PTI-led government for "failing to do its job" and said people were paying for its "incompetence".
He questioned why a dictator despite being handed punishment by court was able to get away yet civilian leaders like himself were victimised.
"Why are elected prime ministers not allowed to complete their five-year term?
"We made so many strides in development," he said talking about his tenure as premier, "but this government ruined everything."
He also talked about being labelled a traitor and said this wasn't the first time that dictators had used this term for civilian leaders to oust them "because they talk about the law and Constitution".
"Who are patriots? The ones who destroyed the Constitution, who broke the country into two halves."
He questioned why retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, who this week announced he was stepping down as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, was still not facing any cases for reportedly amassing assets beyond known sources of income.
Referring to allegations levelled regarding Bajwa's family’s assets, Nawaz said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should have investigated the claims.
"How can he continue to work as chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority?"
Nawaz repeated his accusation that NAB was one-sided and only goes after the opposition.
Delays in speeches
The gathering faced issues in timing as key speakers had not addressed the crowd up until 11pm. According to correspondents and footage, Covid-19 precautions, such as distancing and wearing face masks, were also not strictly followed.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz arrived at the rally after an hours-long journey from her Lahore residence around 9pm and was followed by PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who had been staying in nearby Lala Musa since a day earlier.
Maryam and other PML-N leaders welcomed Bilawal on the stage as he reached the venue.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief and PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman's convoy, however, arrived a little after 11:30pm, until which time neither Bilawal nor Maryam addressed the crowd.
'Ocean of people'
A number of politicians, including PML-N's Marriyum Aurangzeb, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif, Khurram Dastagir and veteran politician Javed Hashmi, were present at the venue.
PML-N's Abbasi, Asif, Aurangzeb, Dastagir and Ahsan Iqbal, Hashmi, Abdul Malik Baloch of the National Party, Mian Iftikhar Hussain of the Awami National Party and PPP's Latif Khosa were among the politicians who addressed the crowd.
In a tweet after 8pm, Maryam said it had taken her motorcade six hours to exit Lahore. "Now rushing to Gujranwala. [Have] crossed Kamoki," she said.
"There is an ocean of people front, back, right & left. This is unprecedented," she earlier wrote, sharing pictures and videos of the supporters accompanying her convoy.
Bilawal energised his supporters through a brief talk during the journey at Wazirabad, saying the opposition parties will jointly work to rid the people of "this oppressive ruler".
He said the opposition had taken to streets against "historic" unemployment, inflation and poverty.
A long wait
Hundreds of supporters and workers had started gathering at the Jinnah Stadium, Gujranwala, in the afternoon after arriving from different cities in the form of rallies. They chanted slogans and waved flags of the various opposition parties that are part of the PDM alliance, as opposition anthems were played on loudspeakers.
Contrary to the guidelines issued by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) for public gatherings in view of the coronavirus pandemic, there was next to no social distancing and most participants were not wearing masks.
According to our Gujranwala correspondent, an estimated 20,000-25,000 people were in attendance at the rally.
The stadium has a capacity of 35,000. Nearly 10,000 seats were arranged in the ground, while some 25,000 people could be accommodated in the various enclosures at the stadium.
Maryam departs as 'Nawaz's foot soldier'
While addressing supporters before her departure, Maryam said the opposition has "come out for the rights of the 220 million people" and for the livelihoods of the poor, traders and labourers of Pakistan.
She urged the people of Gujranwala to join the rally and asked law-enforcement agencies, police and the administration "not to come in the way of the people".
In a tweet, Maryam said she was embarking on this "mission as Nawaz's foot soldier".
"I have dedicated myself to your struggle, your mission for Pakistan and its people. May Allah be with us and may we return triumphant and victorious. Pakistan Zindabad," she said while addressing the PML-N supremo.
'Opposition deliberately delayed departure'
Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the opposition leaders had deliberately "left their homes late" in anticipation of a low turnout of supporters.
"Hopefully they will learn a lesson from this failure and adopt the correct path," he said in a tweet.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Communication Dr Shahbaz Gill announced through a tweet that the government will provide drinking water, masks and hand sanitisers to the participants of the Gujranwala rally.
"Innocent people are being used in the effort to protect family corruption," he alleged.
Opposition will restore sanctity of vote: Fazl
JUI-F chief and PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the opposition was committed to restoring the sanctity of the people's vote.
Speaking to the media in Lahore before his departure to the venue, the JUI-F chief said: "We don't have personal enmity with anyone. But it should be specified that Pakistan belongs to Pakistanis. It does not belong to Western entities.
"Pakistan did not come into power to be ruled by the global establishment.
"The opposition [...] is committed and there should be no impression that any of the parties are waiting for an agreement. All [parties] are committed and are united in restoring [the sanctity] of the people's vote."
Rehman added that the only legislation done during the past two years of the PTI government has been under the Financial Action Task Force's conditions. "The parliament's sovereignty is not considered [...] and the purpose of the law mentioned on the bill clearly states that legislation is being done under the FATF's conditions.
"If we do this, then our parliament is negating its own sovereignty." He added that the parliament was not the people's and had been brought under by the global establishment and was legislating according to its own agenda.
"To defeat such governance, all of the country's opposition parties are under one forum and will address the nation as one," he said.
Time for PM Imran to go, says Bilawal
Meanwhile, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that the current government's anxiety was before the nation. "Our workers are being harassed, FIRs are being lodged and leaders' houses are being besieged," he said while speaking to the media in Lala Musa, from where he was meant to lead a convoy to the venue in Gujranwala.
Bilawal said that despite the government's best efforts it could not address pressing issues such as hunger and unemployment. "The whole country will see the rally in Gujranwala. The time for the selected prime minister to go is now here."
He also warned of pre-poll rigging in the Gilgit-Baltistan elections, adding that he will monitor the process. "If there is rigging, we will launch a protest from GB to Islamabad."
Commenting on the convening of sessions of both houses of parliament, Bilawal called the government's move a "joke".
"You saw the rigging they did to pass the FATF legislation. Imran Khan only speaks in parliament in my absence. I think he will do the same today," he said, accusing the premier of making parliament his jalsagah.
The PDM is an alliance of 11 political parties, formed after the opposition's multiparty conference on September 20, that seeks the PTI government's ouster by launching a three-phased anti-government movement under an "action plan" starting from this month with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies in December and a "decisive long march" towards Islamabad in January 2021.
The protest campaign comes at a time when Pakistan is experiencing an economic crisis, with inflation touching double digits and negative growth.
The PDM, which also seeks an end to the military's alleged interference in politics, had vowed to turn the Gujranwala rally into a ‘big power show’, asking Information Minister Shibli Faraz to resign if the venue was jam-packed.
Faraz had challenged the opposition to fill Jinnah Park since the government had allowed it to hold a public gathering. “Tell us will you resign forthwith if the venue is full?” PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rashid asked the minister.
Gujranwala is a stronghold of PML-N, but the party is not banking on that fact alone. The PML-N leadership had mobilised its workers and supporters across Punjab and asked them to reach the venue while Fazlur Rehman had also committed to bringing a large number of his followers.
Bilawal had arrived in Lala Musa in Gujrat at the residence of Qamar Zaman Kaira on Thursday evening.
Fazlur Rehman left for Gujranwala from Jamia Ashrafia on Ferozepur Road, Lahore. The JUI-F leadership had directed its supporters to reach the rally venue directly.