PESHAWAR: The opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement on Wednesday refused to meet a ministerial committee formed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to convince it to put off the Nov 22 public meeting in Peshawar in light of a spike in the Covid-19 incidence.

The government regretted the opposition’s boycott of the meeting scheduled to be held with the ministerial committee in the assembly secretariat.

The PDM has planned a public rally in the provincial capital on Sunday, where Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari and other opposition leaders are likely to deliver speeches.

Chief Minister Mahmood Khan had constituted a five-member committee on Tuesday to meet parliamentary leaders of the opposition to convince them to call off the Peshawar rally in light of a sudden spike in the Covid-19 cases.

Refuses to meet ministerial committee; district admin says organisers to be booked for violating law

Labour minister Shaukat Ali Yousafzai told a presser at the assembly secretariat that despite accepting invitation, parliamentary leaders of the opposition escaped the meeting.

He said Opposition Leader in the provincial assembly Akram Durrani and other parliamentary leaders of the opposition were invited for a briefing on the latest Covid-19 situation for the postponement of the Peshawar public meeting.

“The opposition alliance is scared of accountability, so it has refused to talk to the government on such an important matter,” he said.

Accompanied by health minister Taimur Jhagra and other members of the committee, Mr Yousafzai alleged that the PDM was using people as a shield to organise the public meeting at such a critical time.

He said the ruling PTI had already announced the postponement of its scheduled public meetings over the surging Covid-19 cases.

The minister claimed that the PTI could hold bigger rallies than the opposition’s but it postponed public meetings in the ‘larger interest’ of the people.

He said the people had already rejected the PDM’s narrative during the Gilgit-Baltistan elections.

Mr Yousafzai said the government would neither give permission to the PDM to hold a rally in Peshawar nor would it stop the latter from organising public meetings.

He said the PDM should realise that it couldn’t oust the government through rallies.

Health minister Taimur Jhagra told reporters that the second phase of coronavirus was very severe as millions of cases had been reported in the US, India, United Kingdom and other countries.

He said the government banned public meetings and rallies in light of the escalating coronavirus cases and majority of the cases were reported in Peshawar and Mansehra.

He said the virus positivity rate was one per cent in Sept and two per cent in Oct and reached nine per cent in November.

“The government will talk to business community on Friday about the pandemic.”

The minister said the ruling PTI held a public meeting in Swat when positivity rate was two per cent.

He urged the opposition to voluntarily postpone all public meetings to protect people from the virus.

PDM media coordinator Abdul Jalil Jan told Dawn that the opposition parties turned down the government’s negotiation offer in light of the decision of the alliance leadership.

He said the PDM leadership had decided not to negotiate with the government at any forum.

“The government invited the opposition for a meeting only after the latter’s movement reached its peak.

The government can’t stop the opposition’s agitation in the garb of Covid-19. We [PDM] won’t postpone the Peshawar rally,” he said.

Mr Abdul Jalil said the PDM had submitted an application to the district administration on Nov 5 for permission to hold a rally in Peshawar on Nov 22.

“We have yet to get response from the administration,” he said, adding that PDM was determined to hold a public meeting on the Wring Road.

He said senior officials of the police department were regularly inspecting the proposed venue of the rally.

The PDM media coordinator said different lawyers’ forums and associations of the business communities had promised participation in the rally.

Meanwhile, senior officials told Dawn that the administration of the provincial capital had been directed to register cases against the organisers of the PDM rally under the KP Epidemic Control and Emergency Relief Act, 2020.

They said the government had decided in principal not to use force against the rally participants but it won’t extend permission for it.

The officials said cases would be registered against the organisers for violating the law.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2020