• People defy ban on Peshawar show despite pandemic, security warning • Fazl asks establishment to stop backing ‘illegitimate’ govt • Maryam leaves venue when learns about grandmother’s death
PESHAWAR: In a renewed attack on the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) leaders on Sunday sought an end to the ‘puppet rule’, warning that actions and policies of the government based on a ‘stolen mandate’ were akin to hollowing out the country.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s capital witnessed a massive turnout of general public and political activists at the opposition’s rally that the government had been warning could cause the disease to further spread as the city registered its highest Covid-19 positivity rate at 18 per cent. Marchers belonging to nearly a dozen political parties poured into the rally venue of Ring Road on Sunday morning despite the security warning from the KP government that quoted fresh intelligence reports as saying the “rally is prone to possible acts of terrorism”.
The provincial government had suspended the BRT service for the day as crowds from all over the province poured into Peshawar.
Amid much pomp and show, the occasion evidenced a rare bonhomie among political parties of diverse hues — religious, nationalists and federalists — much like those in Gujranwala, Karachi and Quetta before it. However, what set it apart was the show of strength from the Awami National Party (ANP) that along with the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl jointly hosted the event.
Among those who spoke at the rally were the PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Balochistan National Party-Mengal leader Akhtar Mengal, National Party’s Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Qaumi Watan Party chairman Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, ANP senior vice president Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and Prof Sajid Mir of Jamiat Ahle Hadith.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz vice president Maryam Nawaz, even though present on the occasion, could not make her speech after receiving news of the demise of her grandmother in London. She came to the dais to make this brief announcement: “I cannot speak to you because my grandmother has died.”
In his address, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said it was time for the ‘selected government’ of Imran Khan to go. “We will hold accountable the puppet government and their selectors as well,” he said, adding that corruption could not be rooted out until the law of the land applied equally to “judges, generals and politicians” of Pakistan.
Criticising the NAB’s witch-hunt of politicians in the opposition, the PPP chairperson said the government’s anti-corruption body had ignored the ruling PTI’s glaring corruption in the case of BRT, the Malam Jabba lease scandal, foreign funding case, assets earned through a sewing machine, and foreign properties and business empire of PM’s special assistant.
Terming Mr Khan a supporter and facilitator of militants, the PPP chairperson said the ‘puppet’ had issued NRO (relief) to the killers of the Army Public School (APS) students and thousands of Pakhtuns who had laid down their lives through the years of militancy for the sake of Pakistan. “The brave people of KP have offered the most sacrifices in the war against terrorism,” he said.
“This is due to democracy that the Pakistani flag is hoisted in Swat and Waziristan. The blood of the people of KP was spilled by the terrorists but the coward Imran Khan did not speak a word against terrorists.”
He said that despite massive rigging in the recent Gilgit-Baltistan elections, constituent parties of the PDM received the most number of votes, indicating the defeat of the PTI. “Citizens would decide the fate of this country, not those in Pindi or in Aabpara,” he said, adding that the people of GB were ready to participate in PDM’s long march. “Today the most popular slogan in GB is Vote par daka, na manzoor,” he remarked.
Addressing the rally, PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman declared Mr Khan Pakistan’s Mikhail Gorbachev, saying that his actions and policies would hollow out Pakistan, making it vulnerable to disintegration.
“The government policies are aimed at changing the geography of border regions like the former Fata and Gilgit-Baltistan,” he said, “without the people’s mandate and without taking the inhabitants of these places into confidence.”
“PDM has declared war against the puppet rulers in Islamabad,” said the Maulana. “We will not afford them the escape route of an NRO. We know who overtly stole the people’s mandate in the 2018 elections. We also know who did it covertly.”
The Maulana said that the ‘puppet’ rulers had lost their credibility in the country as well as abroad. “He (Imran) was speaking against forced disappearances before coming into power, but now fundamental rights are being violated in his government,” he said.
He said the PDM respected the “constitutional role” of the army in securing the border of Pakistan, but “if the military dabbles in politics, it will have to face criticism”. He asked the security establishment to withdraw its support for the “illegitimate” government of PTI and “publicly disown” it.
ANP’s Amir Haider Hoti demanded electoral reforms and free and fair elections, without the army’s interference. He said the PDM believed in the supremacy of constitution and would continue its struggle for this cause.
Earlier, Attaullah Mengal of Balochistan National Party who was the first speaker at the rally, said the struggle for “real democracy in the country would continue, one which protected the rights and dignity of citizens”. He said Pakhtuns had suffered at the hands of the state for the last 40 years, while the Baloch had been oppressed for the last seven decades. “The security establishment is responsible for the current state of affairs in Pakistan, not politicians or the political parties,” he added.
Earlier in the wake of intelligence reports about “possible acts of terrorism” during the opposition rally, the government had suspended the BRT service and put in place a security plan. Spokesperson for the KP government Kamran Bangash said police and other law enforcement agencies were fully alert to such a possibility. However, he added, “Police have chalked out a security plan and we hope that no untoward incident will happen.”
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2020