• Most routes leading to jalsa venue blocked, wet outfield makes life hard for supporters coming to event
• PTI claims 1,800 activists rounded up from across Punjab in bid to ‘flop’ gathering, internet access curbed
• Interim govt maintains measures being taken to ensure security
LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has challenged the country’s incumbent rulers to put forward a plan to rescue the country from the many crises it found itself mired in, and laid out his own roadmap to recovery.
Addressing a massive public rally at Minar-i-Pakistan in the early hours of Sunday, the PTI chairman delivered a lengthy speech, which sounded more like a pre-election pitch, similar to the address he delivered at the same venue just over a decade ago.
During his address, he recalled all the high-handed actions that he said the state had taken against him and his party since his government was ousted in April last year.
In a question to the establishment, Mr Khan asked whether they had a programme to save the country from the current crisis. “I challenge that the incumbent rulers don’t have the ability or the intention [to save the country],” he said, adding that he would happily step aside if “[the establishment] tells me ‘we have a plan’… [but] I know what the programme is…there is no programme.”
According to Mr Khan, there was no “easy way out” of the prevailing crisis and said that while difficult decisions were required, only a government that had a public mandate could make such decisions.
Speaking about elections, the PTI chairman said a level-playing field in elections did not mean ‘tying up Imran Khan’s hands“ and using state machinery to favour his opponents.
Announcing his 10-point programme that he said would pull Pakistan out of the economic crisis, Mr Khan said that overseas Pakistanis will be motivated to invest in Pakistan to attract foreign direct investments to avoid going to the IMF again and again. “We will facilitate all those who would export and bring dollars into the country,” he added.
Mr Khan said his government would promote tourism, adding that the minerals sector would be focused on generating revenue. Mr Khan said the small and medium industries would be revived. He said his government would increase the tax net to generate revenue.
The PTI would resume the housing financing scheme and regularise katchi abadis (slums) as well as the health card programme, he said. The ex-PM said after coming to power his government would increase agri productivity with the cooperation of China. The government would take measures to stop money laundering, he said, adding that the current account deficit would be curtailed as well.
Containers on roads
The public gathering was slated to start 9pm, but due to road blockades, former prime minister Imran Khan reached the venue after 11:30pm, where he received a warm welcome from the charged crowd, including families, waving PTI flags and dancing to the party songs. The PTI public meeting – which was postponed twice – continued early into Sunday.
Earlier, supporters reached the venue after skirting containers placed on the roads leading to Minar-i-Pakistan by the city administration on the pretext of security. Not only were containers placed inside the city, but routes leading to the provincial capital were also blockaded in what appeared to be a bid to stop supporters from attending the rally, PTI leaders claimed. However, apart from PTI workers, residents of Lahore also faced considerably trouble commuting around the city due to these hurdles.
Interim Punjab Information Minister Amir Mir, however, rejected allegations regarding the deployment of barriers to stop people from going to the rally. “The government has temporarily closed a few routes so that passers-by can be frisked and searched to ensure security at the rally venue in line with the threat alerts,” Mr Mir said. “The purpose of the check posts is not to cause discomfort to the masses, but to provide them complete security,” he asserted.
However, the venue was sopping wet following a rainy spell, as well as the civil administration’s efforts, which inundated different sections of the ground. PTI leaders also claimed that internet services were also suspended in some parts of the city.
Similarly, a police crackdown that started after a standoff between law enforcers and party activists at Zaman Park intensified ahead of the public gathering, with the PTI claiming that more than 1,800 party workers who wanted to attend the rally were rounded up from across the province.
Earlier, the PTI chief Imran Khan had anticipated that the government “would put all sorts of hurdles to prevent people” from attending the gathering as part of their ‘cowardly attempts’ to flop the party’s power show.
However, he asserted that he still wanted to remind people that it was their fundamental right to attend a political gathering. “Everyone must assert their right as people of a free nation that won its independence and do come to Minar-i-Pakistan,” he urged.
Separately, in an interview with UK’s Channel 4 News, Mr Khan said the country was heading towards martial law because the incumbent government was completely violating the Constitution as it postponed general elections in Punjab ordered by the Supreme Court. “The PTI dissolved its governments in two provinces and the Constitution requires fresh elections in 90 days but the incumbent government is going beyond the law of the land,” Mr Khan lamented.
Answering another question about his opinion on whether Afghanistan should be asked to allow girls to go to schools, Mr Khan – instead of directly answering the question – said no Western country could dictate Afghans to do anything when they were being isolated. “Engage them, unfreeze their money, let them have stakes and only then they will listen to any outside force,” he advised.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2023
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