LAHORE: ‘Revolting’ against its federal chapter, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid Punjab leadership has announced its support for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s long march whereas Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr Tahirul Qadri has distanced itself from the protest.
While two PML-Q MNAs Chaudhry Shujaat’s son Salik Hussain and Tariq Bashir Cheema are members of the federal cabinet and as central president Shujaat has not extended his party’s support for the march, Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi directed ‘Q’ workers to be part of the PTI “independence march” on Tuesday. He claims the march is meant for strengthening the country, its economy and democracy.
Addressing a press conference, he condemns police raids on the residences of PTI leaders and workers and their arrests in the run-up to the march, and threatens that every government official will be held accountable. He asks the chief secretary and administration not to harass workers as public sentiment cannot be restrained with the closure of transport and roads. He says the workers will reach Islamabad in any case.
He says as a custodian of the Punjab Assembly, it is his duty to protect fundamental rights of the members of the provincial house and video clips of the raids on their houses will be presented in the assembly as well as courts as evidence of violation of fundamental rights.
Shafqat gives go-ahead to workers through video message
The Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) has distanced itself from the march. Both the parties had earlier taken out a joint long march on Islamabad back in 2014 and staged a sit-in there in a bid to seek justice in Model Town police raid case in which 14 activists of PAT had been killed.
The PAT had ended the sit-in after 70 days but the PTI continued it for 126 days and terminated it only after a terrorist attack on the Peshawar Army Public School in December 2014.
Dr Qadri has been critical of Imran Khan for not doing anything worthwhile for the Model Town victims during PTI’s over three and a half years’ rule in the country.
Nurullah Siddiqui, a spokesperson for Dr Qadri, says the PTI had done nothing for the Model Town case victims and had not taken the party into confidence on the May 25 long march. Therefore, he says, the PAT will not consider extending its support to Imran Khan.
March to go ahead: Shafqat
After cancelling press conferences twice on Tuesday to avoid arrest, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf provincial chief Shafqat Mahmood released a video message telling the workers that the march for democracy would go on as planned.
“Since the government has already blocked motorway connecting Lahore and Islamabad, the march would take GT Road route, but it would certainly reach Islamabad to join its leader Imran Khan,” Shafqat said in the message.
For the last 24 hours, police have raided homes of more than 1,100 workers and leaders across Punjab. It scaled boundary walls in the dead of night, invaded homes and trampled privacy of people to pick up leaders and PTI workers. Three MNAs have been rounded up. But, nothing will deter the workers. “They all would gather at 7am at a point, to be conveyed later in the night, to start their march on the capital. It will go on come what may,” he asserted.
The PTI has constitutional right to peaceful protest and it had planned it as such. “Why did the government panic? However, despite arrests and panic, the march will go on, as planned,” Shafqat told his viewers and workers.
Earlier, during the day, Shafqat Mahmood planned and cancelled his press conference twice. First, the PTI had invited the media to its Jail Road secretariat at 12 noon to brief it on raids and arrests of its workers. Since police had already been deployed at its secretariat, the provincial leadership deferred the event till 2pm at the Lahore Press Club – thinking that police may avoid arrest at the press club. However, as the police party, along with a prisoners van, reached the spot, the PTI leaders cancelled the press conference and later in the evening released a video message by provincial head.
Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2022