The 11-party anti-government Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance on Sunday held its third power show — this time in Quetta — despite Balochistan government's appeal to postpone the public meeting in view of security threats.
PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman was also in attendance at the rally in Ayub Stadium, along with other political leaders who are part of the alliance.
PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz in her speech said that the time has come to change the fate of Pakistan — and Balochistan.
"No longer will husbands and brothers go missing, people of Balochistan," she said addressing the attendees.
"The reason you are deprived of food and shelter is that your vote is not respected. Those who rule you are not answerable to you but to someone else, someone else pulls their strings," she said.
The former premier's daughter told the crowd that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in one of his speeches at Staff College, Quetta, had stated that policymaking is the job of civilians and had instructed serving officers of the state to abide by their oaths.
"Tell me, has Quaid's instruction been followed?"
She lauded a recent Supreme Court judgement that declared the references filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa — who hails from Balochistan — were based on "malafide intentions".
"I urge the courts to give justice to Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui as well who was removed for speaking the truth," she said, referring to the deposed Islamabad High Court judge, who was removed in 2018 after the Supreme Judicial Council found him guilty of misconduct over a speech he delivered before the Rawalpindi District Bar Association.
Maryam also demanded CPEC Authority Chairman retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa to step down from his position, citing allegations against him and his family of offshore properties and businesses. She also accused him of "toying with the respect of vote" and interfering in politics during his tenure as an officer in Balochistan.
'Will Balochistan's people always be neglected?'
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is in Gilgit-Baltistan for the upcoming elections in the region, addressed the participants via video link. "Will Balochistan's people always be neglected?" asked the PPP leader. "No matter which province, the people want freedom and a democratic government. They want freedom from poverty and unemployment, to be able to think for themselves and breathe."
"What sort of a democracy is this where the media isn't free and neither is the judiciary."
He also raised the issue of missing persons and said that Pakistan could not be termed as a modern democracy until the matter was resolved.
He said that during PPP's tenure, his father and then president Asif Ali Zardari had "not only asked for forgiveness [from Balochistan] on behalf of the state but started something that could have provided what they were deprived of".
"In the form of 18th Amendment, [Zardari] restored democracy [...] We fulfilled Balochistan's demand for provincial autonomy in the form of 18th Amendment," Bilawal told the crowd. Aghaaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package, Bilawal said, was a beginning for all provinces to end their problems by taking governance into their own hands. The package included constitutional amendments, political reconciliation, NFC award, royalties for provincial resources among others, he said and regretted that it was not being implemented.
The PPP chief said that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was the result of a four-year struggle by Zardari and added that the project was meant for the benefit of deprived regions including Gilgit Baltistan, erstwhile Fata and Balochistan province.
"Today, those who term CPEC as a gamechanger should think that without Balochistan and its Gwadar, without GB and its borders, there is no CPEC," he declared and asked why CPEC had still not benefitted the people of Balochistan and GB. He accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of "trying to turn CPEC into a failed project", adding that the incumbent premier had "not given anything to Balochistan, but instead was trying to snatch from the province".
'Will hold establishment in esteem if it apologises'
JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman, who was the last to address the rally, condemned the arrest of PML-N leader Safdar and the 'detention' of MNA Mohsin Dawar at the Quetta airport, saying that the latter incident was "contrary to Balochistan's traditions".
Rehman insisted that he was not against institutions but "when they impose martial law on Pakistan or when they back a fake government, it is our right to complain and protest".
"Even today, if our establishment stops backing [this] fake government, if it apologises before the nation that 'we did wrong during the elections and ruined Pakistan's mandate', we are ready to hold it in esteem," he said.
He said that JUI-F had played its part in protecting the 18th Amendment and, by holding 'all parties conferences' in all provinces, had succeeded in creating a consensus. He assured that his party would not allow anyone to curb the rights of any province.
Referring to Supreme Court's verdict in a case pertaining to the presidential references against Justice Isa, Rehman said that the government should resign as it has lost its "moral authority".
Rehman said that in the contemporary world, a country's survival depended on its economy, not defence — though that was integral as well.
He said that when the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was prime minister of India, he came to Lahore because he wanted to start trade with Pakistan due to the latter's growing economy. Rehman said that India was being ruled by BJP again but its prime minister Narendra Modi's behaviour with Pakistan was unfriendly because of the latter's weak economy.
He accused the incumbent government of "annoying China" as well as Iran and Afghanistan because it had "no idea about foreign policy".
He also termed the government as a "seller of Kashmir", saying that the rulers had "quietly accepted" the Indian government's move of abrogating the special status of the occupied territory.
PDM against 'unconstitutional power'
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif addressed the public meeting via video link. "Looking at this enthusiasm, I am sure that no one will be able to violate the vote's respect now. I saw this enthusiasm in Gujranwala and Karachi, and now I'm seeing it in Quetta," said the former premier from London.
"I am aware of Baloch people's problems, Nawaz Sharif knows [...] the missing persons issue is still there. I feel pain when I see the victims."
Like in his previous speeches, Nawaz again strongly criticised the PTI government's performance and spoke about his disqualification as premier "over a flimsy charge". The former premier said that he was not liked by some quarters because he was the "elected representative of the people".
He also addressed the arrest of PML-N leader retired Captain Mohammad Safdar, saying that it was "shameful" how police officials barged into the room and violated the privacy of his daughter Maryam Nawaz and her husband.
"Such things prove my point that there is a state above the state," Nawaz said.
"On whose order is the privacy of people violated? On whose orders are doors broken down? If even the province's chief minister doesn't know, then who is behind it?"
He said that the PDM had risen against "unconstitutional power that has made Pakistan hollow from inside and out". The PML-N supremo said that he names individuals "because I don't want my army to be defamed". He called upon Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt Gen Faiz Hameed to "account" for the country's current situation.
"Gen Bajwa, you will have to answer for record rigging in the 2018 elections, for horse-trading in the Parliament, for making Imran Niazi prime minister against people's wishes and [by] tearing apart the Constitution and laws, for pushing people towards poverty and hunger," the former premier said.
He accused Lt Gen Hameed of "interfering in politics for several years with impunity" in violation of his oath.
This is not the first time Nawaz has made such allegations; he made similar ones in the Gujranwala rally after which a furious Prime Minister Imran Khan had declared that he would get “tougher” with the opposition.
“Come back and see where I put you [Nawaz Sharif],” said the prime minister touching his chin as a gesture and challenging the deposed prime minister to return to the country.
'Are Baloch equal citizens?'
Balochistan National Party President Sardar Akhtar Mengal, while addressing the crowd, said that while the province had always held up democratic ideals, it had gotten little in return. He highlighted the missing persons issue once again, saying that the families have been waiting for their loved ones for 10 years.
"Since 1947 to 2020, we have gotten nothing, our children have been murdered, our houses are empty. Was this why this country was made? The agreements that were signed, where was this written that only Baloch and Pashtun people's blood will be shed? We were told that we will be equal citizens here, are you equal citizens here?" he said.
He vowed that the Baloch people would never abandon the country and defend its borders just like the nation had not given up its struggle for rights and democracy.
Mengal regretted that while CPEC projects had led to development in other parts of the country, residents of Gwadar still don't have access to drinking water.
The BNP leader said that he had joined the PDM alliance on the assurance that whichever party comes to power, it will give rights to Balochistan.
'Govt has failed'
Qaumi Watan Party Chairperson Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao blasted the PTI-led government over "their inefficiency [...] the damage they have caused the country".
"They [government] are afraid of opposition's rallies. After Gujranwala jalsa, they registered cases of treason against PML-N leaders. They got so scared in Karachi that the Centre attacked a province and kidnapped its IGP for signatures," he alleged.
"This inefficient government has isolated itself [...] Every policy of this government has failed and now they have made life difficult because of inflation."
JUI-F Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri claimed that participants en route to the rally were being stopped on the way and asked that the workers start a dharna at the very place they have been held back.
Awami National Party's central senior vice president Amir Haider Khan Hoti condemned the way PML-N leader Mohammad Safdar was treated in Karachi and MNA Mohsin Dawar upon his arrival in Quetta.
He said Balochistan's message to Imran Khan was that "you are inefficient, you are unsuccessful".
"The message to the forces standing behind you is that under no circumstances can anyone be above the Constitution and the law."
Former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, during his brief address, declared that the government, which had been "selected has now been rejected by the masses".
He also criticised the media for "spreading false propaganda" about reasons behind Bilawal's absence from today's rally.
Former Balochistan chief minister and National Party leader Abdul Malik Baloch condemned the "kidnap-like arrest" of PML-N leader retired Captain Mohammad Safdar and the "kidnapping" of MNA Mohsin Dawar.
He lamented the discrimination against Balochistan province and its residents and said that the government was trying to "make Sindh and Balochistan's islands a part of federal territory" by passing an ordinance.
Ahead of the rally, Balochistan government’s spokesperson Liaquat Ali Shahwani said that cell phone services have been suspended due to "security concerns" . He urged PDM leaders to direct their party workers to cooperate and not politicise the move.
Earlier on Friday, Shahwani said that the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) had issued a security alert for the public rallies of opposition parties in Quetta and Peshawar, saying there was “credible information” about possibility of subversive activities. A day later, the provincial government banned pillion riding in Quetta under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code.
Rehman and Maryam, however, declared that the event would not be postponed as it was Balochistan government’s responsibility to provide complete security to the public meeting.
The administration should go home if it can not do its job, the JUI-F and PML-N leaders announced in separate remarks after their arrival on Saturday in Khuzdar and Quetta, respectively.
“If something happens, the provincial government will be responsible for it,” said Maryam.
The alliance leader said the PDM had challenged Prime Minister Imran Khan’s dictatorial attitude. He was afraid of Gujranwala and Karachi big public meetings, she said, adding that he might resign from the premiership by January 15, 2021.
Mohsin Dawar barred
Meanwhile on Saturday, lawmaker Mohsin Dawar was stopped at the Quetta airport and taken into custody by security officials who informed him about a ban on his entry in the Balochistan capital.
Sources said MNA Dawar was asked to shift to a rest house till the next flight, he refused to leave the airport.
In the meantime, a number of PTM supporters gathered at the airport, blocked traffic on the main road and chanted slogans against the government. Home Minister Ziaullah Langove confirmed that there was a ban on MNA Dawar’s entry. The ban is set to expire on October 29.
"Once again our rights are being violated by state above state," tweeted Dawar. "I am told its because of security risks. Why are these risks limited to me only? We refuse to be silenced like this. We will not be intimidated."