Separate rallies led by different constituent members of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – a 10-party opposition alliance seeking to oust the government – reached Islamabad on Tuesday where a protest was held outside the headquarters of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against what the PDM has called an "unacceptable delay" in the PTI foreign funding case.
Addressing the rally, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz said the PDM parties had gathered outside the ECP to remind it of its constitutional obligations.
Commenting on the size of the crowd, she asked whether there had been a "misunderstanding" that the PDM's planned long march was being held today. "From the huge size of the crowd, I feel like you had that misconception. If this is a protest rally, look and think what the condition will be when the public reaches here for the long march," she told the rally.
She said the protest was being held on the Constitution Avenue but "unfortunately there is no justice or Constitution in the country we live in".
"Today we have gathered in front of the ECP office to remind it of its constitutional responsibilities, to tell the chief election commissioner that your institution is a constitutional institution and an institution of the people. This is the institution that the Constitution has made responsible for respecting the people's votes and this is the institution that had to get respect for the people's votes," she added.
Terming the PTI foreign funding case the "biggest fraud in Pakistan's history", she said although the cases against her father, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, were expedited and decided within days, the ECP had "only held 70 hearings" of the PTI case since 2014.
"Today the PDM and public ask you, if you did not steal, then why did you try to stop the case 30 times?" Maryam said, addressing Prime Minister Imran Khan. She added that the premier had submitted six requests in the court saying the ECP could not decide this case.
"ECP formed a committee called the scrutiny committee whose job was to investigate and place results in front of the people but when the probe was started, the list of crimes was so long that it was told to be lenient on [the PTI] and the committee then became obedient of Imran Khan and ECP," she said.
The PML-N leader said the case against the PTI could be decided within three days "but they have been sitting like a snake on top of it for seven years".
"If you were so innocent why did you give applications to keep the proceedings secret?" she said, referring to the PTI. "This means theft took place and very big theft was done."
Maryam said the State Bank of Pakistan had identified "23 secret accounts" of the PTI which she claimed were being operated through Prime Minister Imran's signatures.
"The scrutiny committee itself admits that it cannot give us the facts because Imran Khan has stopped [it from doing so]. Now you know the person who cried chor! chor! (thief!) turned out to be the biggest thief," she added, alleging that funds had come into Imran's accounts through Hundi.
Maryam alleged that Prime Minister Imran had received funds from people in Israel and India, saying: "Do you know who funded him from India? Bharatiya Janata Party member Inder Dosanjh. And the Israeli who funded him was Barry C. Schneps."
She suggested that "countless" such people and companies from India and Israel had funded the PTI.
This is not the first time that the names of Schneps and Dosanjh have come up in connection with the PTI foreign funding case. In fact, the allegation was originally levelled by the original petitioner in the case, Akbar S. Babar, back in 2015.
Babar, who is a founding member of the PTI and a former close confidant of Prime Minister Imran, had said at the time that he had been compelled to take the legal course after the party leadership failed to hold the corrupt accountable for financial wrongdoings.
"When you receive funds from BJP members, then why would [you] not pray for Modi to win [the elections]? Why would Kashmir not be thrown in Modi's lap then?" Maryam said. "When you take money from someone, you have to do their bidding."
She said it was due to the PDM's movement that the premier was forced to re-open proceedings in the foreign funding case.
Mocking the PTI statement blaming the party's agents in the US for any possible illegal funding, Maryam alleged Imran "is either very foolish or he thinks the PDM and Pakistan's people are naive".
She said: "When the money was coming and you were spending it, you did not know it came from the agents. But when you had to answer, you remembered the agents after seven years when people asked and pressure was exerted."
She alleged that Imran "knew how to sign and receive money, knew how to spend money like water and use it to topple the [PML-N] government but did not know where the billions were coming from".
"If your agents have done all this, then tell in front of the ECP which agent put votes in your ballot boxes in the 2018 election. Tell the people of Pakistan [...] who were the agents who brought you to power. Who were the agents who got you fake certificate of Saqib — not Sadiq — and Ameen from [former chief justice] Saqib Nisar? Who were the agents who managed the media to get news of your choice run through pressure?" she told the premier.
"Pakistan is changing, no matter how much power and strength you exert, you will not be able to defeat the people."
Addressing the ECP administration, Maryam asked why the commission had "remained silent" when its "feet and hands were tied in the 2018 elections".
"When your institution (ECP) was held hostage and an incompetent person was selected and people's votes were stolen, why did you not speak?" she asked the ECP, adding that today Pakistan's people were "bearing the brunt of your silence".
She said along with the government, the people also held the ECP responsible inflation, rising prices of utilities and food items and governance failures.
Maryam alleged that Prime Minister Imran had "confessed to his crime" in the foreign funding case. "When someone accepts their crime, then there is no decision, there is only punishment," she said.
The PML-N leader was joined on the stage, set up atop a container, by PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other top leaders of the opposition alliance. Before the arrival of the top leadership, other opposition leaders delivered speeches.
Addressing the rally, Rehman alleged that the government was "not elected" and had no right to rule, and accused the "helpless" ECP of having failed to conduct transparent elections. "Some powerful institutions took over the election and imposed a daf-playing man on the people," he said.
"An incompetent person was made the ruler because this fool will remain in the front and those powerful institutions would rule [in the back]," he added.
The PDM chief repeated the allegation that Prime Minister Imran had "fought elections on money from India and Israel".
He said the PTI demanded instant justice in cases concerning others, but had submitted 50 requests to delay the foreign funding case against it. "They cannot remain rulers, they lied [and] hid foreign money," he alleged.
"Israel and India are Pakistan's enemies, you are using their money to make a person [the prime minister]. Pakistan is an atomic power, by making such a person sit on [the chair], they all become suspicious," he said, criticising the government's foreign policy which he said had cost Pakistan its regional allies.
"First, this government was illegal, then it was proved incompetent and inefficient and now it has been proven to be thieves. If the ECP still gives them protection, we will not be able to trust it with elections."
Noting that the government wanted the opposition not to bring students of seminaries to political rallies, Rehman said such participants were of age and intelligent.
"Why are you afraid of religious seminaries?" he asked the government. "On one hand, you say you want to bring them into the mainstream and when they want to come and understand the Constitution, you say they shouldn't. So where should we go then, towards guns?"
He announced that madressah students will attend the PDM Kashmir rally on February 5 as well as anti-Israel protests to be held in Karachi on Feb 21.
Urging supporters to "not lose enthusiasm", the JUI-F chief said: "I believe we have to set out on jihad and withdrawing is a sin. We have to stay in this circle and take our movement forward."
While addressing the crowd earlier, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal lashed out at the PTI government, which he said was "imposed on Pakistan through illegal money".
"Our social fabric has been destroyed, economy has been destroyed, CPEC has been destroyed. Time has come to send home this incompetent, inefficient, selected leader."
Iqbal said Prime Minister Imran Khan had said in the past that "if six people say 'Go Niazi Go', I will leave power" but now that "Go Niazi Go is being chanted from Karachi to Gilgit, he is stubbornly sitting".
He claimed that the premier would not remain in power "further" as the PDM would organise a long march that would "end his reign".
PPP's Raja Pervez Ashraf in his speech said hundreds of thousands of people were asking the ECP why it was "sitting on" and not deciding the foreign funding case for the last seven years.
"PDM leaders and workers say that democracy will be strengthened when ECP conducts transparent elections and all parties are treated equally," he said, accusing the premier of having "stolen the people's mandate".
"I demand on behalf of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari that foreign funding decision be taken immediately and Imran Khan be declared ineligible," he added.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan leader Owais Noorani in his remarks said the entire nation was "anxious" that the PTI foreign funding case that was pending for six years was not being decided. He said the rally was demanding "accountability" from the ECP, which he accused of "holding back" election results after the end of polling to allegedly ensure the opposition's defeat.
Also addressing the rally, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) president Sardar Akhtar Mengal said the PDM was asking "supremacy of the Constitution" and its supporters had gathered today "to get the Constitution implemented on which the country is standing".
"People want supremacy of the Constitution but the rulers and establishment have crushed it under their boots," he alleged.
Mengal said if a small party from Balochistan or another smaller province had been found to be involved in illegal funding, it would have been accused of "treason".
"We have not run our parties on foreign funding but there has been a trend of saying 'Pakistan Zindabad' and then eating it up," he added.
Maryam and PPP's Sherry Rehman earlier shared visuals of separate entourages, each being led by leaders of the respective parties, moving towards a decided meeting point in the capital from where they headed towards the ECP office.
Before the rally, Maryam, BNP-M chief Mengal, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai and PPP Senator Sherry Rehman gathered at the house of PDM President Rehman where they held a discussion on the arrangements for the protest and the security situation.
Other leaders including former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf of the PPP, retired Capt Mohammad Safdar and Khurram Dastagir also participated in the discussion.
Speaking to reporters ahead of his departure for the PDM rally, Rehman said the PDM leadership was "present and ready to go towards the protest outside the ECP" headquarters.
"The assets hidden by the party which calls itself the ruling party, the foreign funding case against it, six years have passed and around 150 hearings have been held but the government is delaying it by constantly filing requests. They have not declared their documents and hidden assets, they are still trying to hide them," he said, referring to the PTI.
"The aid that could have been used against Pakistan, against national security — all these [matters] are very important and the PDM has decided to present the problem in the people's court and protest outside the ECP [and question] why they are delaying [a judgement in the case]".
Responding to a question, Rehman said that the alliance's leadership was "talking very carefully and within the limits of the law and the Constitution".
He said the PDM would also organise a protest in Rawalpindi on Feb 5 against the alleged sell-out of Indian-occupied Kashmir and to show solidarity with Kashmiris.
"We are going to Pindi on Feb 5. We will have a big gathering regarding a protest on the sell-out of Kashmir and solidarity with Kashmiris."
'ECP fully aware of its constitutional responsibilities'
In a statement issued after the PDM rally, the ECP defended its performance, saying it was "fully aware of its constitutional and legal responsibilities and determined to fulfil them without any pressure".
The commission said it remained "ever-ready" to ensure the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections, whether they were general elections, Senate elections, local government polls or by-elections.
"In the foreign funding case, the current Election Commission has made significant process despite the coronavirus pandemic, lawyers' court engagements and the retirement of a member of the scrutiny committee," the statement said.
It added that the scrutiny committee had been directed to hold "at least three meetings a week" in order to take the funding case to its logical end.
PDM rallies converge
In a statement earlier today, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said that all rallies headed towards the ECP will converge at Kashmir Chowk at 1pm, urging party workers and supporters to make their way to the protest.
"The ECP should start writing down its verdict in the foreign funding case, the people are on their way to receive it. The crime has been unearthed and the thief has confessed," she said, adding that the commission should complete the inquiry.
Some small rallies from Rawalpindi and Islamabad reached Serena Hotel Chowk from where PDM leaders led the main rally to the ECP headquarters.
All main opposition parties took part in the rally with the PML-N playing a leading role. JUI-F’s Rehman also led from the front with his party taking out two separate rallies. PPP joined the PDM power show, but its chairman, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, did not attend. Instead, other senior party leaders participated in the protest.
The foreign funding case against PTI was filed in Nov 2014 by Akbar S Babar, a founding member of the party. He had alleged serious financial irregularities in PTI’s accounts.
The allegations made by Babar included illegal sources of funding, concealment of bank accounts in the country and abroad, money laundering, and using private bank accounts of PTI employees as a front to receive illegal donations from the Middle East.
The ECP is expected to hear the funding case against the ruling party on Wednesday.
The ECP building was completely sealed with concrete blocks and barbed wire surrounding it, while a large number of security personnel were deployed outside it.
More than a thousand security officials, including police and 300 Rangers personnel, were deployed outside the ECP headquarters, officials said.
Police said all entry and exit points to the capital's Red Zone, which houses high-profile buildings such as the Supreme Court and President House among others, had also been sealed.
Police officials were instructed not to carry firearms; only Rangers were allowed to carry firearms. The Special Branch and the CIA were also deployed for making arrests.
Meanwhile, the interior ministry also established a control room to monitor the protest.
Ahead of the rally, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said that the government had not placed any obstacles for the opposition's protest.
"The smooth flow of traffic on the capital's highways is proof of the premier's pro-democratic mindset. The nation has not forgotten when the PML-N government targeted PTI protesters during a peaceful demonstration," he said.
These sentiments were also echoed by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. On Monday, he said that the government had decided to give a free hand to the PDM to organise a rally in the Red Zone. But he made it clear that nobody would be allowed to take the law into their own hands.
He said the PDM should know that the Supreme Court, Parliament House and other institutions were situated on Constitution Avenue and the government had taken all necessary security measures for their protection.
Responding to Aurangzeb's statement, PTI information secretary Ahmed Jawwad said that the movement which was "rejected by the people has started on the path to fascism".
"The disappointed and defeated opposition has started threatening the institutions [...] First the Supreme Court and accountability courts kept asking them for receipts [of their transactions] and now the ECP is asking them.
"The [PDM's] attempt to keep dead politics alive through threats and coming down on institutions has not been successful and will not be successful," he said.