LAHORE: Personnel of the Punjab police stand at a railway crossing near Zaman Park to stop PTI workers from reaching Imran Khan’s residence, on Sunday.—Arif Ali / White Star
LAHORE: Personnel of the Punjab police stand at a railway crossing near Zaman Park to stop PTI workers from reaching Imran Khan’s residence, on Sunday.—Arif Ali / White Star

• Ex-PM says govt wants to ‘provoke clashes’ for sake of FIRs as PTI stages power show today
• Govt allows rally, bars speeches against ‘constitutional offices’

LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Sunday postponed the election rally until Monday (today) after the party failed to get relief either from the Election Commission or the Lahore High Court against caretaker Punjab government’s order of imposing Section 144 in the provincial capital.

The interim Punjab government had imposed Section 144 late in the night in the wake of a PSL match in the Qaddafi Stadium and a marathon race in the city.

Initially, the PTI was determined to hold the rally but the former premier stopped the party leaders and workers, telling them not to be trapped in the legal ploy.

“The Punjab chief minister and police want to provoke clashes to file more sham FIRs against PTI leaders and workers and to use [it] as a pretext for postponing elections,” the PTI chairman tweeted less than an hour after the scheduled time of the rally from his residence to the Data Darbar — from a different route that did not disrupt PSL match or marathon race route.

Still, Mr Khan questioned how Section 144 could be imposed on political activities, especially when the election schedule had been announced. In a statement written in capital letters, Mr Khan stated, “I am telling all PTI workers not to fall into this trap.”

In the same thread of tweets, the former prime minister said it seemed Section 144 had illegally been imposed yet again solely on the PTI election campaign as all other public activities were going on in Lahore.

“Only Zaman Park has been surrounded by containers and heavy police contingent,” Mr Khan said and explained that this clearly meant that the chief minister and police wanted to provoke clashes to file more sham FIRs as they did on March 8.

‘No ban on political activities’

On the other hand, caretaker chief minister Mohsin Naqvi in his tweet stated that there was “no ban on political activities”. He stated that all political parties were allowed to campaign.

“We have restricted rallies and political activities for today as we have [a] PSL cricket match, team movements and [a] marathon in Lahore, which were all planned and announced much in advance,” he added.

In a notification on Sunday, the administration also allowed the PTI to take out the public rally that entails “high-security risk due to the general and specific threats against political gatherings and previous instance of attack on the ex-prime minister”. The permission was given after an undertaking by the organiser to the “effect that in case of any untoward incident he shall be held responsible”. The notification also barred speeches against the constitutional offices, including the military and judiciary.

‘Supporters throng Zaman Park’

Meanwhile, posting a video of party workers and supporters coming in droves to Zaman Park – the starting point of the rally, Mr Khan also tweeted, “Despite Zaman Park being sealed, people of Lahore are already out in huge numbers. However, I cannot allow any injuries to my workers, the general public, or my police just so these fascists can register more FIRs against us and find a pretext to run away from elections.”

Sources in the party said that Mr Khan had a meeting with the party leadership after Saturday midnight. During the meeting, it was decided that the party would not be doing anything against the law and could postpone the rally in the wake of Section 144. He, however, had tasked his party men to contest the illegal action at the forums of the ECP and the LHC to get relief.

In his address on Saturday, Mr Khan stated that the incumbent rulers feared going to elections and could employ any tactic, including a bomb blast or high-profile murder, to create a reason and impose an emergency in the country. He said he was defying all such plans by exercising restraint.

‘Law and order’ disruption

Earlier, in the day, PTI vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and senior vice-president Fawad Chaudhry told media persons that the caretaker government was determined to disrupt the law and order in Lahore.

Mr Qureshi said the PTI senior leaders meeting had decided that the party leaders and workers would keep calm and not become part of any violent activity. “The government wants a clash not elections,” the vice chairman said.

He said that they had approached the LHC, while PTI central Punjab president Dr Yasmin Rashid had reached the ECP Punjab office to challenge the imposition of Section 144. Mr Qureshi said that he wanted that the LHC Chief Justice should listen to PTI’s argument that it had already changed the route of the party rally and taken to the northern side of Lahore to ensure that they do not come in the way of the PSL and the marathon.

Mr Qureshi said the marathon race was held without the fear of any security threat but the electoral process being held on the orders of the Supreme Court was suspended.

Fawad Chaudhry urged the LHC CJ to open the court and listen to the PTI’s petition because “the Constitution of Pakistan was in danger”. He said there was no Section 144 on the PML-N’s convention and asked whether only one party was going into elections.

PTI Central Punjab President Dr Yasmin Rashid said the “two-faced” caretaker chief minister had made an “apologetic tweet” saying there was no ban on political activities but he ensured that the PTI should not hold its scheduled rally by blocking all the roads leading to Zaman Park.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2023

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