LAHORE: From using one as a pulpit to challenge the government from outside the Parliament House in 2014 to being shot at atop another container through Wazirabad, PTI chief Imran Khan has had a rocky relationship with containers.
The former prime minister who, in the past, has ridiculed his political opponents for ‘hiding inside their vehicles’ or behind bulletproof glass, addressed his first major political rally of the year on Saturday from inside the relative safety of a brand new bulletproof container.
However, several party leaders Dawn spoke to were clueless about the container, where it came from and where it went, or how much it cost the party.
The party claims that Mr Khan faces threat to his life while its leader Yasmin Rashid says he (Imran) never wanted to use the bulletproof shield but the party leadership forced him to use the bulletproof paraphernalia in view of the attempt on his life.
Although previous containers used by the PTI chief have featured living quarters and space to accommodate dozens of party leaders and workers, the newest container used at the Minar-i-Pakistan rally was a more spartan affair.
The specially-prepared 20-foot long container has a special 10x5 foot panel of bulletproof glass on the front wall through which Khan’s supporters could see him during his address.
Party sources say the bulletproof glass was imported, modified and installed at a local car windscreen workshop. As Dawn spoke to several PTI leaders, a senior leader came up with an altogether different view, saying the new container was rented from Islamabad and it was returned after the event. A senior party leader says the container was not only bulletproof but bombproof too and it weighed 17 tonnes. The container walls were fortified with bombproof material and it was also fitted with an air-conditioning system.
A crane to place the container on top of a platform made of more containers to be in full public view for rally participants, even those standing on the flyover outside the venue area.
“The party has placed an order for a purpose-built container to be used by the party chairman at scores of political rallies being planned ahead of the general election,” PTI Lahore President Sheikh Imtiaz Mahmood says, asserting that Khan will address the next rally from the party’s own purpose-built container. However, Mr Mahmood expressed his ignorance of the party’s arrangement of the container used on March 25.
However, several PTI leaders Dawn talked to did not offer any estimates of the cost or rent of bulletproof container used in the Minar-i-Pakistan rally. Many of them even expressed their ignorance of the arrangement of the specially modified container.
The container bears a Quranic verse on its front wall as well as images of Pakistani and PTI flags. Inside the container, a single-seat sofa was placed for Imran Khan and a dice to address the rally participants. A cameraman was also performing his duties inside the container.
Since PTI March 25 rally, Mr Khan’s opponents have started labeling him a coward for addressing the public rally and appearing before courts under bulletproof cover, reminding him of the way he used to ridicule his opponents for using bulletproof shields in public meetings.
It may be mentioned that the PPP and ANP leaders were facing serious life threats in 2013. The PPP had complained of inability to even campaign in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Ahead of the 2018 general elections, the PML-N and PPP leaders had faced threats in Punjab.
Taking to Twitter, PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique had posted a picture of Khan’s container and satirically stated, “The brave captain will deliver a speech urging people to break the idols of fear from a bulletproof bunker”.
Dr Yasmin Rashid says the party has strongly objected to Imran’s action of opening his bulletproof vehicle’s door to take a microphone and talk to the media outside the ATC court on Friday.
Recalling the days when the PTI had begun its long march on Islamabad on Oct 28 last year, the PTI leader says Khan had rejected all advisories of using bulletproof stage on his container.
“He is the same man who refused bulletproof stage on his long march container in November last year,” she added.
“Since Mr Khan has been attacked and he himself named the prime minister, interior minister and an intelligence agency officer for plotting to kill him, the party leadership has told him that the party could not afford him to become an easy target,” she says.
The PML-N spokespersons opted not to respond to a question regarding Khan’s use of the bulletproof container.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023