Leaders of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Sunday blasted the government and establishment at Lahore's Minar-i-Pakistan at the sixth power show which the alliance has termed as a "historic and decisive" one.
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif also addressed the crowd via video link and asked who was answerable for the government's failings.
"He (PM Imran) says I won't give an NRO. Who is asking you for an NRO? You and Aleema Khan got an NRO from Saqib Nisar yourself," said Nawaz.
"They say, don't take names? Tell me, what should we do? Is Imran Khan alone responsible for the predicament the country is in?"
Nawaz said that his "crime is that I speak the truth" and added that he was fighting for the people. He said that his "narrative" was the same as Quaid-i-Azam's. Nawaz once again lashed out at the armed forces, accusing them of being involved in political matters.
"Stop political engineering factories in agencies," said the former prime minister.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz thanked Lahore's residents for attending the public meeting in overwhelming numbers. Without naming the prime minister, Maryam said that someone had "challenged PDM in Pharoah's tone" to gather enough people to fill up Minar-i-Pakistan's grounds, adding that today, participants of the public meeting had filled up adjoining streets as well.
Referring to a gathering held by the PTI at Minar-i-Pakistan in 2011, Maryam alleged that the public meeting had been arranged by former ISI chief Shuja Pasha.
Maryam also spoke about the Panama Papers case and alleged that former chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa had told the incumbent prime minister to file an application "after which you (Imran) ousted Nawaz Sharif on the basis of an iqama through a fixed match".
The PML-N vice president also questioned PM Imran's offer for dialogue through the Parliament, asking who was behind the operations of the House. The incumbent premier will have to go, Maryam said, because he had ruined the country's economy and had "lied to the people every day".
She said Lahore welcomed Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as a "real brother".
"No one is big or small, we are all equal," Maryam declared.
She said that for the past three years, the prime minister — whom she referred to as 'Tabedar (obedient) Khan' — had been saying that he will not grant an NRO. Maryam insisted that today, the prime minister was seeking an NRO from Nawaz Sharif and the people.
She urged the people to wear masks because "I value and care for your life" but said that it was important to attend public meetings because Covid-18 was "more lethal than Covid-19". The former prime minister's daughter expressed grief that seven patients in Peshawar's Khyber Teaching Hospital had died due to shortage in oxygen supply and question the PTI government's performance in the health sector.
PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in his address, recalled that his grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had founded the party in Punjab. PPP workers in Lahore, Bilawal said, went through torture but continued to support democracy.
He said that the country was suffering because of the "fake, incompetent and illegitimate government".
"Punjab's pag (turban) is on the head of the puppet of a puppet. Is this acceptable to Punjab?" he asked, adding that he neither accepted the prime minister nor his chief minister. He insisted that the PDM's "war is not for power but for the rights" of the people.
The PPP chief said that non-democratic forces termed as the establishment, which he refers to as the selectors, "have been conspiring against you (public) and have been forming governments of their choice". He said that the incumbent government was brought to power "through the umpire's signal".
"Selectors, listen, you will have to listen to the public's voice, you will have to accept their decision [...] the time for dialogue is gone, now there will be a long march," said a charged Bilawal.
"Stop making phone calls, stop trying to establish contacts. No differences can be created between us, we will reach Islamabad and chase your puppet out. Once he is gone, then there can be dialogue," said Bilawal.
The JUI-F chief also addressed the crowd and said: "The wounds inflicted by the rigging done by the establishment for this illegal government, the dirty role they played [to sieze] this illegal power are getting deeper."
Rehman further said that he wanted to "alert and caution the defence forces and their leadership [...] to move out of the people's way and let them reach Islamabad".
"In the coming days, I see anarchy in the country. We should handle matters before heading towards anarchy," he said.
'Who is responsible?'
Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan's (JUP) Awais Noorani, who was the first to address the crowd, told Prime Minister Imran Khan to submit his resignation and called upon PTI supporters to "rebel" against the ruling party.
Awami National Party Ameer Haider Khan Hoti also condemned the ruling PTI and said that about 80 years ago, Bacha Khan had started a non-violent struggle for his nation's rights but he was termed as a traitor.
Hoti declared that terrorism was "imposed upon the Pakhtun people" saying, "Pakhtun people were the ones who were killed and were defamed as well". He added that there were "conspiracies" to lead Afghan peace talks towards failure and efforts to "create misunderstandings between Afghanistan and Pakistan".
"I want to say that this is not our fight alone, this is of all of Pakistan's," he said. Hoti urged PDM leaders to stand by the Pakhtun people and vowed that he would continue to stand by the alliance for the "supremacy of the Parliament and Constitution and the respect for vote".
Balochistan National Party-Mengal’s Sardar Akhtar Mengal started off his address by saying that the PDM public meetings were "funeral prayers of the dictators and the powers who, for 70 years, have treated the country's Constitution as their slave".
"I will only present a few drops of the blood flowing from our bodies and then you can decide if we are responsible for the distrubance in Balochistan today," he said. Mengal said that his party had been struggling against the khalayi makhlooq, against whom the people have gathered today.
"Who is responsible [for the cruelty and injustice over the past 70 years]? It is not them, but the politicians and [people of the] big province who have gathered in this venue today," Mengal said. "Had you controlled this dragon from day one, it would not have become this uncontrollable monster. This genie that is out of the bottle, it is your responsibility to control it."
Mengal said that 10,000 Baloch people were still missing, adding that all the people of Balochistan want was to be treated and respected as humans. He also spoke about provincial autonomy, saying that if "provinces were autonomous [in Pakistan] Bangladesh would not have been created". He said that in Gwadar people were being "divided like East Germany and West Germany" in the name of development.
Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chairman Mehmood Khan Achakzai called for a "Turkey-like revolution" in Pakistan and urged Maryam, Bilawal and Rehman to spearhead the movement. He said that he was striving for a Pakistan where no ethnicity would be superior to the other.
Jamiat-i-Ahle Hadees chief emir Professor Sajid Mir also spoke at the gathering and said he wanted to "commend the participants for holding a grand and memorable public meeting in the shadow of Minar-i-Pakistan despite the difficulties" created by the government.
He said that the "new Pakistan's government was in quarantine" and added that PDM shared the same narrative. Mir said that the "right to self govern should be returned to the public".
This was the first time in the recent history of the country that the PML-N held a public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan, the first rally at this venue for the party's Vice President Maryam.
Similarly, it was PPP Chairperson Bilawal's first appearance at a political gathering at Minar-i-Pakistan. His late mother, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, held a historic public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan in 1986.
Lunch by PML-N
Arrangements were completed early on Sunday and leaders of the parties arrived in the city for the PDM's final power show of the first phase of its anti-government movement.
Upon arrival, Maryam hosted a lunch at party leader Ayaz Sadiq's residence in the city.
The lunch was attended by Bilawal and other opposition bigwigs, including Rehman, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) President Sardar Akhtar Mengal and Awami National Party (ANP) central general secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussain.
From there, the leaders left for Minar-i-Pakistan, the venue of the rally.
Earlier in the day, while speaking to reporters while leaving her Jati Umra residence, Maryam said that the public would now "bring down the roof" over the PTI government.
"I want to give a message to the entire Lahore that I am fully aware of your difficulties. People have not come out on the PDM's call; instead, it is the PDM that has come out on the people's call. The time has come to give the final push to [the PTI government]," she said, urging people from all sectors to come and attend the rally.
She said this government is "going and the era of Nawaz Sharif's services is coming".
In a tweet, she also advised the attendees to "wear a mask for your own safety and that of your dear ones, at all times, before, during and after" the rally.
Earlier, Bilawal's procession passed through Naseerabad where it was surrounded by party workers.
Rehman met leaders of his party, including Rashid Mehmood Soomro, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi and former member of the National Assembly (MNA) Qamaruddin Soomro, at a hotel in Lahore.
The JUI-F leaders briefed Rehman about arrangements for the rally. "Today's rally at Minar-i-Pakistan will break all previous records," Rehman said.
Senior PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique, while speaking to attendees at the rally, said that today was a "very important" day.
"We want to end interference in democracies. We want the supremacy of the Constitution and the law. Constant interference puts Pakistan's [progress] back by 20 years [...] When more than 150 resignations are received, how will they (the government) hold by-elections?" he questioned.
Meanwhile, PML-N deputy secretary general Ataullah Tarar said that volunteers have been assigned their duties and they have taken up their positions. "A historic rally is about to happen. The PDM will prove that it is an alliance of the parties representing the people," he said.
PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the day has come that the "selected and vote-stealing government" feared.
She said that people from not only Lahore but all over Pakistan were coming to the rally at Minar-i-Pakistan.
The PDM is expected to announce the "decisive phase" of its struggle against the PTI-led government in today's 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 the 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.
Additional reporting by Adnan Sheikh.