ISLAMABAD: Hours after his disqualification by the Election Commission of Pakistan triggered countrywide protests, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan directed his supporters to call off demonstrations and preserve their energies for the ‘historic’ long march against the government, expected to be announced soon.

Although Mr Khan asked his party workers to be ready for the long march, he, however, once again failed to announce the date for the much-anticipated protest.

In his short video message, the PTI chief said he will give them a call for a decisive long march soon. “Be prepared for the country’s ever biggest protest…this will not end until real independence and the exit of the thieves in power,” he added.

Imran Khan also termed the ECP verdict flawed and said that the decision was so shaky that the court will strike it down in the first hearing. “We have all the evidence that we have not done anything wrong in the purchase of gifts under the law,” he added.

He alleged PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari had misused Toshakhana (state gift depository) to obtain luxurious vehicles. He added that getting a vehicle from Toshakhana was prohibited which was why he did not take from the one he had received in gifts.

Imran Khan accused Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja of “becoming” a part of the “mafia” and alleged that he has been giving wrong decisions against the PTI for the past nine months. The PTI chief said he was already sure that the ECP will decide against him and that he had told his party leaders on Thursday night.

Countrywide protests

In reaction to the ECP decision, PTI workers across Pakistan took to the streets to protest the de-seating of their party chief. In Islamabad, a PTI MNA was arrested by the capital police along with his two police guards over a firing incident outside the ECP office. Faizabad, the border between Punjab and the federal territory, remained a site of clashes between the police and PTI workers and thick clouds of tear gas enveloped the interchange.

In Lahore, the protesters blocked roads and the metro bus service besides blocking the city’s entry and exit points, resulting in an exchange of hot words with people over the issue of blockades. In Rawalpindi, roads were blocked in multiple locations and police remained on high alert.

In Sindh, PTI activists took to the streets in urban and rural parts of the province and also staged a march in Karachi to the provincial headquarters of the election watchdog where they staged a sit-in against the ECP.

The largest party of the city in terms of electoral mandate, however, failed to stage an impressive show. The protest which remained peaceful could not attract a large number of people as witnessed in the recent past when the PTI called for a strong reaction after the ouster of Imran Khan in April 2022.

Protests were held in Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Larkana and other parts of Sindh where scores of workers burnt tyres, blocked roads and staged protest demonstrations outside respective press clubs.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, angry PTI workers blocked traffic arteries and chowks in different parts of the province, suspending the traffic flow for some time between the KP districts and Punjab. The protestors, who did not come out in large numbers, also set tyres on fire on the Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway, Indus Highway, and different parts of Grand Trunk Road.

In Balochistan, the workers and supporters of PTI held a protest against the disqualification of the party chief. Soon after the announcement of the decision, the PTI workers gathered at Manan Chowk in Quetta where they burnt tyres and blocked traffic. Reports said that the PTI supporters also took out protest rallies in Usta Muhammad, Dera Allahyar, Muslim Bagh, Musakhail and other areas.

Muhammad Ashfaq in Peshawar, Imran Ayub in Karachi, Saleem Shahid in Balochistan and Asif Chaudhry in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, October 22th, 2022

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