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QUETTA: The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), in a show of defiance coupled with street power, held its third anti-government rally in the Balochistan capital on Sunday — despite a government warning that militants can target the public gathering — and reiterated their resolve to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying "the sun is about to set" on his government.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, JUI-F chief and PDM leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PkMAP leader Mahmood Achakzai, ANP acting chief Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal and others addressed the large show of supporters who gathered at the Ayub Stadium.
They said a progressing Pakistan had been ruined, rendering millions jobless. Maryam began by saying sentiments of Pakistanis were hurt after depictions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) were projected onto government buildings in France. She asked the people to raise their hands and record their protests against such disrespectful actions.
The PML-N vice-president also lamented over the non-provision of scholarships to the students of Balochistan. "The studentsof Balochistan and Punjab are close to my heart."
"The children of Balochistan were crying on the streets for the last 12 days (for their scholarships) but no one inquired about their condition," she said, hoping that their scholarships would be resumed.
"I love the people of Balochistan more than the people of Punjab," she said, speaking of her intentions behind donning a traditional Balochi dress.
The public meeting attendees were heard chanting intermittently: "Charon subon ki awaz Maryam Nawaz, Maryam Nawaz (The voice of four provinces Maryam Nawaz, Maryam Nawaz)" and "Vote ko izzat do (give respect to vote)".
Maryam said the people of Balochistan have just as much a right to elect their own representatives as anyone else in the country.
Talking about a girl who had approached her ahead of the rally and informed her that three of her brothers had "disappeared", she said that when she and her father were detained, she did not cry, however, after hearing the girl's story, her eyes were full of tears.
Maryam said she remembers Dr Shazia, and Nawab Akbar Bugti, and how his loved ones were "not allowed to take a look at his body".
Slamming the ones who entered her hotel room in Karachi, she asked whether these were Pakistan's norms. "Do you people accept this?" she asked the rally attendees.
Maryam also asked how it was that after former military ruler Pervez Musharraf was indicted, "the courts that sentenced him were dismantled".
The PML-N leader said that the teachings of Pakistan's founder were being erased and demanded that the people's elected representatives be allowed to rule. "Don't install a fake government," she said.
She said Balochistan’s bad state is because the vote of the people of Balochistan had not been respected. "(Pakistan's) freedom and existence will be in jeopardy if we do not stop this today."
Referring to the Supreme Court's detailed decision on the reference against Qazi Faez Isa that was quashed, she said: "Imran Khan and his selectors should resign over their historic defeat."
She said Islamabad High Court Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui should also be served justice, adding that the "sun is about to set" on the current "dictatorial regime". "The puppet show will soon come to an end," she said.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was next to address the gathering remotely, via video link. Speaking from Shigar in Gilgit-Baltistan, Bilawal said that his party would not pull out from the PDM.
"We can move two steps forward, but we will not step back." Talking about the people of Balochistan, he said that they were a brave lot, and that they had sacrificed many lives for their rights.
The PPP chairman said the people whether from Karachi, Gujranwala, or Quetta, all want freedom and the rule of democracy.
He said: "What sort of freedom is this that neither are the people free, nor is there is a free democracy." The PPP chairman said the Opposition is not only present together on the (rally) stage, but is also on a single page.
Bilawal said that after Musharraf's tenure ended, "we have been condoning the tyranny of dictators". "Pakistanis have been sold to other countries — there can be no greater corruption and treason than this," he added. The PPP chairman said that "the person who had sent his airplanes to kill Akbar Bugti still remains at large".
The PPP chairman claimed that former president Asif Ali Zardari had worked hard for four years for the realisation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). "CPEC was formed to lift the people of Balochistan from the sense of deprivation they had fallen into and to boost the country's economy," he said.
Bilawal said that it must be acknowledged that there would be no CPEC without Gwadar or Gilgit-Baltistan. "Today, why are the people of Balochistan feeling that the CPEC is of no use to them?" he asked.
Slamming the premier, he said that PM Imran Khan had "not given Balochistan anything" and that he was eyeing to take over the province's islands. "PDM will not allow Imran Khan to take over the islands of Balochistan and Sindh," he said, adding that the prime minister seeks to have CPEC "fail".
"Imran Khan has destroyed the country's economy. This is destruction, not change," he said. Bilawal said the people of the country are bearing the brunt of this "incompetent and selected government". "They thrash us and then prevent us from crying," Bilawal lamented.
The PPP chairman said the country had witnessed "historic inflation" during Imran Khan's tenure, Bilawal said that the matter of missing persons needs a permanent resolution and warned that if the "cruelty" continued, the country would no longer be able to tolerate it.
"Can you find an example like this in any other country? People disappear from every city and province," Bilawal said, adding that everyone was on a single page on the demand of ending the missing persons issue once and for all.
Calling out the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), he said more people had died in the anti-graft watchdog's custody than in America’s Guantanamo Bay prison.
The PPP chairman said that PM Imran Khan aims to turn each and every institution of the country into his Tiger Force.
"Imran Khan wants to turn Sindh police, the country's agencies, and Frontier Corps to Tiger Force," he said. The PPP chairman also lamented over Mohsin Dawar, a member of the National Assembly, not being allowed to enter Quetta.
Bilawal, who could not attend the rally due to campaign activities in Gilgit-Baltistan, had earlier directed his party workers and supporters to make the public gathering a success.
PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman started his address by condemning the blasphemous acts in France and Denmark that had violated the sanctity of Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). "To such unholy actions, there will be a reaction," Fazl warned.
The PDM chief condemned the Karachi incident where reportedly law enforcement officials had entered Maryam Nawaz and her husband, retired Captain Safdar Awan's room by force. "I term the incident with Maryam and Safdar moral bankruptcy," he said.
Fazl said that the incumbent government should resign in light of the Supreme Court's decision on Justice Qazi Faez Isa. "The apex court's judgement is a clear vindication of PDM's stance."
Talking about the government's foreign policy, he said that Pakistan's ties with its allies — China and Saudi Arabia — are "deteriorating". "These two countries have stood by us in our time of need."
The PDM chief claimed that today, even Afghanistan was not talking about Pakistan. "They (incumbent government) do not have a foreign policy and are not even aware of what it is."
Fazl said that Pakistanis considered Kashmiris as a part of their own identity, however, the government had "struck a deal" and "sold" Kashmir.
He said that India "celebrated" when Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider had been nominated in a sedition case.
The PDM leader said that the state institutions held immense importance for the country. Fazl warned the government that it would need an NRO, and not the Opposition, adding “we respect our institutions.”
"We do not want the government of the intoxicated we want the government of sharifs (nobles)," Fazil said, in what could be considered a reference to the Sharif family.
The JUI-F leader said that the present rulers in Pakistan were "fake", and that they would remain "fake".
"Our movement against these fake rulers will gain momentum," Fazl warned, adding that Balochistan and Sindh had the right to their islands. "No one can take over the assets of Balochistan," he said.
Fazl said that the incumbent rulers had destroyed the country's economy and that he had warned earlier that such people should not be given the reins of government as it would lead to the country's decline.
"This journey has started and it will continue. If you wish to rid yourselves of oppression, then have the courage and move forward," he said to the people listening in. He urged them to come out of their homes for a "better Pakistan".
Fazl also said that "powerful people" should not make fun of their "love for the land" and their "loyalty". Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) chief Aftab Sherpao, while addressing the crowd prior to the speeches by top-tier leadership, said that people's problems had worsened during the incumbent government's rule.
"Elections will soon be held across the country," he said. "The next government will be formed according to the wishes of the people." Saying that QWP was ready to "render any sacrifices", Sherpao said that the opposition wanted to send the government packing. He said inflation was the biggest issue of the day.
Awami National Party (ANP) acting president Ameer Haider Khan Hoti said that the government had "betrayed" the people of Balochistan and their representative, Sardar Akhtar Mengal.
"The voice that has risen in Punjab and all over Pakistan (should be heard) and its case should be fought," he added. Hoti said that the locals of Balochistan had the "first right" on Gwadar before everyone else, adding that he felt happy if the entire country reaped benefits due to the port city.
"Conspiracies are being hatched against the 18th Amendment," he warned, adding that the "selected" will have to go home. "There is no other solution. New elections will be held, no selection will be done (from now on)."
Sardar Akhtar Mengal, while addressing the crowd, said that while the province had always held up democratic ideals, it had gotten little in return. He highlighted the missing persons issue once again, saying that the families have been waiting for their loved ones for 10 years.
He vowed that the Baloch people would never abandon the country and defend its borders just like the nation had not given up its struggle for rights and democracy. Mengal regretted that while CPEC projects had led to development in other parts of the country, residents of Gwadar still don't have access to drinking water.
The BNP leader said that he had joined the PDM alliance on the assurance that whichever party comes to power, it will give rights to Balochistan.
Former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, during his brief address, declared that the government has now been rejected by the masses. He said it is the right of only elected people to make the government.
He also criticised the media for "spreading false propaganda" about reasons behind Bilawal's absence from the rally. Former Balochistan chief minister and National Party leader Abdul Malik Baloch condemned the arrest of Captain Safdar.
He lamented the discrimination against Balochistan and its residents and said that the government was trying to "make Sindh and Balochistan's islands a part of federal territory" by passing an ordinance.
Mahmood Khan Achakzai said his party will always stand by weaker segments. Before the rally began, opposition leaders gathered at a hotel to hold a meeting. Speaking to Geo News ahead of the rally, PDM organisers said that security arrangements were in place to guard against any untoward incident. DG Izhar Ikram said proper security measures had been taken in light of the terror threat issued by National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA).
NACTA, working directly under the federal interior minister, had issued the alert three days ago, warning that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan aims to target large gatherings in Peshawar and Quetta. As a result, the Balochistan government had deployed additional police at the venue.
Addressing a press conference in Kalat, PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had vowed that the alliance's Quetta rally will be held today at any cost. According to local media reports, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) leader Maulana Shah Awais Noorani said during his address to the PDM rally in Quetta on Sunday that he wants an ‘independent Balochistan’
“We want Balochistan as an independent state,” Awais Noorani could be heard as saying during the PDM rally in a viral video. “Today Balochistan looks like an underdeveloped area of the country,” he said in his speech at the gathering.