The Pakistan Democratic Movement has said that it will hold a long march to Islamabad in January or February to force the government to quit.
It held its final rally of the year in Lahore today (Sunday), after Multan, Karachi, Gujranwala and other cities. It had threatened in the previous rallies to resign from assemblies en mass to pressure the government into quitting, but no such decision was announced today.
Bilawal Bhutto, Maryam Nawaz and Fazlur Rehman addressed the rally, and decried inflation and opposition arrests. Nawaz Sharif joined the rally via a video link.
Maryam said that Imran Khan wants to hold talks with the opposition after successful PDM rallies. “He used to claim he won’t give anyone NRO, now he is asking for one.”
Bilawal Bhutto said that it is shameful that the incumbent and former opposition leaders have been put in jail, and demanded that Shehbaz Sharif and Khursheed Shah be freed.
"We are here to challenge this government and its facilitators," he added.
Fazlur Rehman listed down major demands of the PDM, which include an end to any interference of establishment in politics and an independent judiciary, reforms for free and fair elections, provincial autonomy, media freedom and an end to extremism and terrorism in the country.
He said that the PDM will hold a long march in January or February.
The local administration in Lahore denied the PDM permission to hold the rally. It said it can’t allow any group to hold a rally at Minar-e-Pakistan because of the spike in coronavirus infections in the country.
The government had urged the opposition to postpone the rally by two to three months. Prime Minister said last week that the PDM leaders are "only doing this to save what they have stolen. All of them will be booked in FIRs.”
Nonetheless, PDM workers entered Iqbal Park, the ground surrounding Minar-e-Pakistan, Saturday night to set up for the rally. Chairs, a sound system and posters of PDM leaders were set up. Containers were also brought in to build the stage.
PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz also toured the site ahead of the rally.
She has accused the government of placing roadblocks in their way. She said the PDM will not give the government an NRO, echoing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s oft repeated words.
Cold weather in the city did not deter PDM supporters. Cold, foggy weather has been reported in the city and the temperature has dropped.
PDM chief Fazlur Rehman said their December 13 rally is being called impossible but they have already uncovered every one of the government’s attempts to foil their plans. He has called today’s rally the biggest in history.
We want the end of this incompetent government, he said.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan might attack Minar-e-Pakistan when the PDM holds its gathering, the National Counter Terrorism Authority warned last week.
It recommended taking strict security measures at the gathering and “keeping an eye out for suspicious individuals”.
It says terrorists have changed their strategy after targeting a madrassa in Peshawar where eight people were killed and over 125 wounded in a blast.
Neighbourhoods locked down
The Punjab government imposed a smart lockdown in 13 areas neighbouring Minar-e-Pakistan ahead of the rally.
A notification issued by the Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department on Saturday stated that the order would remain in force till December 25.
The areas that have been named in the notification are Rang Mehal, Androon Shera Wala Gate, Mochi Gate, Adroon Bhatti Gate, Chuhan Road, four streets of Ravi Road and four streets in Badami Bagh.
What is the Pakistan Democratic Movement?
The PDM, which comprises 11 opposition parties, has been staging anti-government rallies across Pakistan.
The first rally was held in Gujranwala on October 16, the second in Karachi on October 18, and the third in Quetta on October 25. The movement’s fifth rally was held in Peshawar on November 22 and its sixth in Multan on November 30.
The opposition members said there should be accountability for anyone accused of corruption, not just the opposition. At the rallies, the opposition leaders also challenged the country’s powerful establishment, accusing them of bringing the PTI government to power through systematic rigging.
PDM lawmakers have also threatened to resign en mass to force the government to dissolve assemblies. PML-N leader Muhammad Zubair told SAMAA TV that Nawaz Sharif will make a "big announcement" today.