Showdown feared as PDM calls for march on capital

Published March 15, 2022
ISLAMABAD: Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif speaks at the dinner he hosted at his residence on Monday. Other opposition leaders Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Akhtar Mengal, Prof Sajid Mir, Amir Haider Hoti and Mohsin Dawar are also seen.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif speaks at the dinner he hosted at his residence on Monday. Other opposition leaders Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Akhtar Mengal, Prof Sajid Mir, Amir Haider Hoti and Mohsin Dawar are also seen.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: Hours after the announcement by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to arrange a gathering of “one million people” at D-Chowk on March 27 on the eve of voting on the crucial no-confidence resolution against Prime Minister Imran Khan, the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Monday gave a call to the public and workers of the component parties to begin a long march towards Islamabad on March 23 to stage a sit-in which could continue till the completion of the voting process in the National Assembly.

The decision to hold the long march towards the capital on the Pakistan Day was announced by PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman while talking to media persons after attending a meeting of the joint opposition at the residence of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif.

The meeting was attended by the heads of the opposition parties and prominent leaders, including PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), Amir Haider Hoti of the Awami National Party and independent MNA Mohsin Dawar.

“We will pay back you in the same coin,” declared an angry-looking Maulana while responding to the veiled threats by a number of government ministers earlier in the day to physically stop the parliamentarians from attending the National Assembly session during the voting on the no-confidence resolution against the prime minister.

Fazl warns govt of tit-for-tat response if it uses force; opposition asks supporters to begin march on 23rd; PPP claims it has agreed on MQM’s terms

The Maulana said the march would begin simultaneously from all parts of the country after Zuhr prayers on March 23 and the participants would reach in front of the Parliament House the next day. He said the duration of their stay at the venue would be announced later, but asked the people and workers of all the opposition parties to come mentally prepared to stay at D-Chowk till completion of the voting process.

Maulana Fazl, who is also the head of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), said they would arrange a historic and grand public gathering to provide protection to the members of the assembly to enable them to use their right of vote.

It may be recalled that it was after a meeting of the heads of the component parties in Islamabad on Dec 6 last year, the PDM had announced its plan to hold an anti-inflation long march towards the capital on the Pakistan Day. However, there had been complete silence from the PDM over the long march issue since its decision to move the no-confidence resolution against the prime minister.

The other opposition Pakistan Peoples Party is not a part of the PDM; however, the Maulana expressed the hope that the PPP would also announce its decision to participate in the long march, saying he and Mr Sharif had extended a formal invitation to the PPP.

Soon after the announcement by the PDM to hold the long march, the government ministers had requested the opposition to delay their protest due to the traditional military parade on the Pakistan Day and the presence of the foreign dignitaries due to a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the capital. However, the opposition had turned down the request.

Reading out a two-page ‘joint declaration’ by the united opposition, the Maulana regretted the government’s decision to hold public meeting at D-Chowk and warned the rulers against adopting a policy of “confrontation, chaos and violence”.

He said the members of the assembly could not be stopped from casting their votes and such an act would amount to committing a “treason” under Article 6 of the Constitution.

The Maulana said they were giving a call to the public to gather in Islamabad to express solidarity with parliament, democracy and the Constitution, adding that if any untoward incident happened, the prime minister and his government, which had already lost majority, would be responsible for it.

The joint opposition also condemned the threatening statements by the prime minister and other ministers against the opponents. The Maulana said that on the one hand, the “incompetent” prime minister was directly hurling threats to the opposition and, on the other, the ministers were announcing that they could become suicide bombers to attack the opposition. He said if any leader or member of the opposition was harmed, the prime minister and his ministers would be responsible for it.

The declaration said the ministers’ statements showed that the government had already lost the confidence of the people and parliament as it was not able to gather the support of the required 172 members in the 342-member lower house of parliament.

Through the declaration, the opposition asked National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to immediately summon the session and put the resolution for a vote in accordance with the Constitution and said if the speaker failed to fulfil his constitutional responsibilities, then he would also be committing “treason”.

The declaration also urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to decide the foreign funding case on Tuesday (today) when it would take up the case for hearing.

PPP vice president Sherry Rehman later tweeted that her party and its allies had formally received invitation from the PDM to attend the March 23 Jalsa and that they would respond to it after holding more consultations.

Earlier, the federal capital witnessed another day of hectic political activities as allies of the ruling PTI held marathon meetings with the government as well as the opposition, but at the end of the day sought more time to come up with a final strategy.

A delegation of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), headed by its convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, met PPP leader and former president Asif Zardari and then went straight to the residence of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain for further consultations.

Though there are no words from the MQM after the two meetings, the PPP officially released a press statement claiming that the two parties had agreed on maintaining a “long-term working relationship” in the national interest and that the party leadership had agreed to all the “points” of the MQM, which has the highest number of seven MNAs among all allies of the PTI, followed by five each by the PML-Q and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and three by the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA).

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was also present with his father during the meeting with the MQM delegation, besides other party leaders, including Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Yousuf Raza Gilani and Sindh ministers Nasir Hussain Shah, Saeed Ghani and Sharjeel Memon.

After departure of the MQM team, the father and son duo reached the official residence of PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif to attend a dinner which the latter had hosted for the members of the joint opposition.

“The PPP and MQM leadership discussed the political situation in the country. The PPP and MQM agreed on a long-term working relationship in the wider interest of the nation. The PPP also agreed with all the points of the MQM,” said a statement issued by the PPP.

The MQM delegation comprised Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Aamir Khan, Aminul Haq, Wasim Akhtar, Khawaja Izhar and Javed Hanif.

The PML-Q later in a brief statement issued after its leadership’s meeting with the MQM said the two parties reviewed the prevailing political situation in the country, including their alliance with the PTI.

Talking to a group of reporters on Sunday, PML-Q leader and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi had stated that the party had made its decision regarding the vote on no-confidence resolution against the prime minister which it would announce after a final round of consultations with other allies in the ruling coalition.

Mr Elahi had also stated that his party was working together with the other two allies in the ruling coalition — MQM and BAP. He, however, did not name the GDA, which is also a part of the ruling coalition at the Centre.

The statement of Mr Elahi, who is also the president of the party’s Punjab chapter, indicated that the PML-Q, MQM and BAP would make a joint decision.

Mr Elahi had also stated that it had been agreed that the present assemblies would complete their five-year terms, ending in August 2023. He also said a meeting with PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif could take place any time.

The Punjab Assembly speaker, who himself is a main contender for the office of the Punjab chief minister, said if they would join the opposition’s coalition, then they would definitely first resign from the ministries. He had also disclosed that Aun Chaudhry, a leader of the Jahangir Tareen group, had had a meeting with them on Sunday and that he would convey the decision of his group in the next two days.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2022

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