PDM's long march to Islamabad could also be to Rawalpindi: Fazl

Published January 1, 2021
PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressing a press conference with other opposition leaders at Raiwind on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressing a press conference with other opposition leaders at Raiwind on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said on Friday that the opposition's movement would no longer be directed only at the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government but also "his backers", hinting that the alliance's possible long march to the capital "could also be to Rawalpindi".

Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the PDM leaders in Raiwind, Rehman said it was decided after detailed discussions that the opposition will participate in the upcoming by-elections, but indicated that there had been no decision on contesting the Senate elections.

"In principle, we are not opposed to the elections of any institution but there is some time until [Senate polls]," he said, adding that the final decision will be taken in future PDM meetings while keeping in view the prevailing conditions.

The JUI-F leader said news of rifts within the PDM was being run on media as part of a "campaign", but stressed that such rumours had died today.

"PDM has come out stronger than before and is more determined than before to rid the nation of this illegitimate government," said the PDM chief, speaking alongside other top opposition leaders including PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz but not PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who attended the meeting virtually.

Analyse: Will the PDM succeed in its campaign to force PM Imran out of his office?

He said all PDM constituent parties had reported to the meeting today that the resignations of "all" opposition lawmakers had reached their party leaderships, in accordance with the Dec 31 date given for this purpose by the alliance.

"So one of the targets has been achieved today," he said, reiterating that the government had one month to resign. He said if the premier refused to step down by January 31, the PDM leadership will announce the long march to Islamabad and decide its date.

"It will also decide whether the long march should be staged towards Islamabad or to Rawalpindi," Rehman added. Rawalpindi is a metonym for the headquarters of the Pakistan Army.

"We agree that the establishment has held the entire system hostage by turning Pakistan into a deep state. Imran Khan is a pawn [and] the people who did rigging and imposed him upon the nation, we want to make it clear [to them that] we blame the establishment and army leadership for this," the PDM chief said.

He continued: "The direction of our criticism will now be manifestly aimed at them (establishment). Now it is for them to decide whether they will further sink their claws on Pakistan's politics or retreat and move towards their constitutional responsibilities."

Rehman said the PDM considered the army "as our army" and it respected all generals. "But when this defence power interferes in politics forgoing its professional duties, it creates confusions," he added, attributing Pakistan's alleged constitutional, political and economic crises to this "transgression".

"All parties are unanimous that the movement's direction should not be turned only towards the pawn but also against his backers."

He announced that the PDM will stage a demonstration in front of the Election Commission of Pakistan offices in Islamabad on January 19, while a similar protest was being planned to be held in front of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) headquarters as well.

Rehman said all opposition members summoned by NAB had appeared before it but said "it has been proven that this is not accountability but revenge".

The meeting had been summoned to come up with a united stance on the issue of en masse resignations and participation in the upcoming elections on a number of seats of the national and provincial assemblies and the Senate.

On Wednesday night, Rehman had met PML-N leader Maryam, after which they had announced that they wanted to provide an opportunity to PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to present his viewpoint on the issues of resignations and participation in the coming elections, following which they would try to develop a consensus.

The confusion arose earlier in the week when Bilawal, while addressing a press conference after his party’s central executive committee meeting in Karachi, said the CEC believed “that if we (joint opposition) take up the challenge of Senate elections collectively we can make a better impact and achieve larger success”.

He added that he would take up the CEC’s decisions before the PDM leadership and discuss a further plan of the opposition’s movement against the incumbent government.

En masse resignations

The first phase of the PDM’s anti-government movement had come to an abrupt end with the public meeting in Lahore on December 13 as the leadership had failed to announce any future plan to intensify their campaign. Though the PDM leaders had declared they would make an announcement regarding district-wise protests, shutter down and wheel-jam strikes and the long march during the Lahore public meeting, no such plan was announced from the stage.

Later, the PDM leaders set Jan 31 deadline for Prime Minister Imran to resign or face a decisive long march to Islamabad sometime in February.

It was after a meeting of the heads of the constituent parties of the PDM in Islamabad on Dec 8 that Rehman had announced that all the national and provincial lawmakers belonging to the opposition would hand over their resignations individually to the heads of their parties by Dec 31.

The Maulana had announced the decision during a press talk after presiding over a more than four-hour-long summit of the alliance which was also addressed by PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari through video link from London and Karachi, respectively.

The PDM leadership, however, had failed to come up with an agreed plan regarding the use of their most lethal weapon of en masse resignations and its timing and Rehman simply announced that the steering committee of the PDM would meet in Islamabad the next day “to decide the schedule for further rallies and demonstrations and the date for long march towards Islamabad”.

The next day, however, before the meeting of the steering committee could take place, the PDM leaders once again gathered at Rehman's residence for a luncheon meeting after which Bilawal categorically declared that his party would come out with a final decision regarding en masse resignations after discussing it at its CEC.

Sources in the PDM earlier said PPP leaders during the meeting were not very enthusiastic about the proposed move and Zardari was not in favour of Sharif’s proposal to hand over the resignations to Rehman for future use and it was on his proposal that other parties finally agreed on the PPP’s suggestion that the resignations should be collected by the party heads.

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