Stage set for PDM power show in Lahore today

Published December 13, 2020
PML-N workers attend a rally in Lahore on Saturday ahead of the Pakistan Democratic Movement's rally on Dec 13. — Photo courtesy PML-N Twitter
PML-N workers attend a rally in Lahore on Saturday ahead of the Pakistan Democratic Movement's rally on Dec 13. — Photo courtesy PML-N Twitter

• Govt says people from outside city won’t be stopped from joining rally • PML-N workers break locks of Minar-i-Pakistan’s main gate, make arrangements for event

LAHORE: The 11-party opp­osition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), is all geared up for putting up its much-hyped “power show” at Minar-i-Pakistan here on Sunday (today), the last one in its first phase of anti-government rallies that began three months ago.

The PDM is expected to announce the “decisive phase” of its struggle against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led government in this public meeting.

A senior PML-N leader told Dawn that the next phase of its struggle would begin in January in which the PDM had planned 16 more rallies across the country before the final showdown — a long march on Islamabad and resignations from the national and provincial assemblies.

“We expect that some ‘behind the scenes’ development may take place in January before the PDM goes for a long march,” he said.

The PDM has planned a long march in February if the PTI government does not buckle to the pressure exerted by the opposition alliance.

However, no consensus seems to be in sight over resignations from the national and provincial assemblies at the moment because PPP is still reluctant to say goodbye to the Sindh government.

This matter has been deferred for the time being and the PDM is concentrating on protest rallies.

The government on the other hand appears to have changed at the last minute its strategy to handle Sunday’s rally. The government said it would not stop the people coming from other cities from joining the rally, giving an opportunity to the opposition parties to match Imran Khan’s Oct 2011 public meeting at the same venue.

The PML-N expressed its doubts over the government’s intentions to give the PDM free hand to hold the public meeting. “It will be clear on Sunday morning whether the PTI government allows our caravans from other parts of the country to enter Lahore. At this moment we have reports that police have been put on alert and containers placed at different points, including motorways,” PML-N lawmaker Samiullah Khan told Dawn.

He said in case the government stopped PDM workers from entering Lahore, they would hold a sit-in outside the city.

“As far as our preparations are concerned, tomorrow’s power show will be historic, setting a new record in terms of number of participants,” Mr Khan said.

This is the first time in the recent history of the country that the PML-N is going to hold a public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan, the first rally at this venue for the de-facto president of PML-N Maryam Nawaz.

Earlier she had held corner meetings in the 14 constituencies of Lahore to mobilise the party workers. She had pleaded the people to come out of their houses and reach Minar-i-Pakistan on Sunday so that the PDM could manage to send the government home.

Similarly, it will be the first appearance of PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at a political gathering at Minar-i-Pakistan. Going there would revive the memories of his mother Benazir Bhutto’s historic public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan in 1986.

Both the PML-N and PPP leaders Dawn spoke to on Saturday emphasised the significance of public meetings at Minar-i-Pakistan. “Benazir Bhutto’s historical power show at the venue in 1986 is remembered even today,” a PPP leader said.

And similarly, Imran Khan’s 2011 successful public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan made him a popular leader, he added.

“For the PDM and particularly the PML-N, Minar-i-Pakistan’s Sunday rally is a matter of do or die. In case of failure to put up a big show in terms of the number of participants, the anti-government campaign will fizzle out,” the PPP leader said and expressed the hope that the PDM would manage to prove its mettle on Sunday.

On Saturday a good number of PML-N workers reached Minar-i-Pakistan, broke the locks of its main gate and placed chairs and installed lights at its ground. Some PML-N leaders also visited the venue and oversaw the preparations. Maryam Nawaz also reached there late on Saturday night to take a look at the arrangements.

As many as 3,000 volunteers of the Ansarul Islam, the volunteer wing of the JUI-F, will provide security cover to the rally. A separate gate has been allocated for women participants.

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar asked the PDM to delay its Minar-i-Pakistan rally in light of “terror threat alerts” and the coronavirus situation. “I ask the opposition to resolve issues through talks; to discuss the issues through dialogue and not by playing with people’s lives,” Mr Buzdar said while talking to reporters.

He said the opposition should realise that current Covid-19 situation in Lahore was “very grave” and the positivity rate of coronavirus was more than 46 per cent.

Provincial Law Minister Basharat Raja said the government had given permission to the PDM to hold a rally at Minar-i-Pakistan but “action will be taken against those who will take law into their hands”.

Special Assistant to the CM on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan said in a tweet that according to intelligence reports, there was a terror threat to the PDM rally. Besides gathering of more than 300 people is a violation of Covid-19 standard operating procedures. “If any untoward incident takes place at the PDM rally, the opposition parties will be responsible for it,” she warned.

The Lahore police also issued terror threat alerts to Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz.

Meanwhile, Mr Bhutto-Zardari who is in Lahore, said the strategy of the second phase of the democratic struggle against the selected government of Imran Khan would be announced on Sunday at Minar-i-Pakistan. He called on every PPP worker in the city to attend the public meeting.

“Jiyalas of PPP fought against the dictatorship of Gen Ayub Khan and Gen Ziaul Haq. They were lashed but refused to give in. They sacrificed their lives in the struggle for democracy. They know how to fight dictators. The blood of jiyalas has kept democracy alive in this country. They know how to start and finish a long march, they know how train marches are organised and they know how to root out the tyrants,” he said.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the PPP was fighting for democracy from the platform of the PDM and this would be a decisive struggle for democracy in the country. “We will restore real democracy in Pakistan. We want the people to decide about the economic policy and other policies of the country. We want the people to decide their future themselves. We will install a people’s government after dislodging this puppet and selected government. We will form a government which will fulfill the promises of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at Minar-i-Pakistan, PMLN information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said: “No matter what the imposed regime of selected PM Khan does, Sunday’s public meeting will take place come what may.”

She said the people of Pakistan did not need to worry about the fascist tactics of this regime because the PDM would now rest only after sending the sugar and wheat thieves home. “Dec 13 is the decisive day of sending the sugar, wheat, flour, medicine, electricity, gas thieves and lying, incompetent and corrupt hoard of looters back to their homes,” she said.

Arrests condemned

Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Latif Afridi and former president Syed Qalbe Hassan on Saturday condemned what they called unwarranted arrests of political workers in the wake of the PDM rally in Lahore.

In a statement, they demanded immediate release of all political workers of PDM since they had been unlawfully arrested.

Mr Afridi said the people had the right to peacefully protest and hold demonstrations and the government had no justification to oppress peaceful political workers and protestors.

He said any aggression perpetrated against peaceful political workers was against constitutional, democratic and human values.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2020

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