More to come

November 29, 2020

The Peshawar public rally wasn’t and won’t be the only point of contention between the PTI government and the 11-party opposition alliance, PDM

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tried, but failed to stop the Pakistan Democratic Movement from holding its public meeting in Peshawar on November 22.

Warnings such as filing police cases against the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) leaders and organisers for violating the ban on public rallies didn’t work. No cases were registered when Chief Minister Mahmood Khan’s government realised that it would be an exercise in futility. Subsequently, the provincial government threatened to prosecute the organisers of the PDM Peshawar rally if the coronavirus cases registered an increase as a result of the event. This too appears unlikely as determining an increase in Covid-19 before and after the public meeting won’t be easy. Besides, the PDM would certainly reject any such claim and as usual describe the registration of cases against its leadersas political victimisation.

The Peshawar public rally wasn’t and won’t be the only point of contention between the PTI government and the 11-party opposition alliance, PDM, as the latter’s campaign to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan from office gains momentum in the coming weeks and months. The PDM has planned more such anti-government events, including three in the Punjab at Multan, Rawalpindi and Lahore, and one in Sindh at Larkana. The Punjab government has already imposed a ban on holding of public meetings due to concern that these could further spread the incidence of Covid-19 at a time when the second wave of the virus has hit Pakistan.

The PDM isn’t expected to accept the ban as it is keen to sustain the momentumof its anti-government agitation before undertaking its ‘long march’ to Islamabad in January. This could vitiate the atmosphere and even lead to confrontation between the two sides. It seems Chief Minister Usman Buzdar-led PTI government in the Punjab won’t be able to stop the PDM from staging its forthcoming public meetings in the province even though it has taken a tougher stand on the issue compared to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government.

No doubt, the public rallies could turn out to be super-spreaders of Covid-19. Most people don’t follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs), including the wearing of masks and keeping a distance of six feet from one another, despite the massive awareness campaign undertaken by the government and non-governmental organisations. There is no way the SOPs could be followed or enforced at big public meetings like those being organised by the PDM or the recent dharna (protest sit-in) staged by the Tehrik-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) against France over the publication of the caricatures of Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) at the Faizabad Bridge linking Islamabad with Rawalpindi and the subsequent mammoth funeral of the TLP founder, KhadimHussain Rizvi, following his sudden death in Lahore. The helplessness of the government in such situations is evident as all that those in power could do is to warn that the second wave is much more dangerous because the daily death toll from Covid-19 that was previously six to eight, has now risen to 48.

The PDM isn’t expected to accept the ban as it is keen to sustain the momentum of its anti-government agitation before undertaking its ‘long march’ to Islamabad in January 2021.

The PDM’s Peshawar rally was big despite the cold weather and the warnings by the provincial government about the ban and its half-hearted measures to block certain roads by putting up containers on routes near the venue of the meeting at the Ring Road Chowk on Dilazak Road. The participants were brought from all over the province and the venue was bedecked with pictures of the PDM leaders and flags of its component parties. Four bigger parties, JamiatUlema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), were expected to bring more people to make the meeting a success, though Aftab Ahmad Sherpao’sQaumiWatan Party (QWP) and the other smaller parties also contributed their bit to the numbers.

Three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, based in the UK for medical treatment, didn’t address the Peshawar rally due to severe kidney pain, his daughter Maryam Nawaz pointed out. She also didn’t make a speech and left after telling the crowd that she had just been told that her grandmother had died in London. ANP presidentAsfandyarWali Khan, whose party along with the JUI-F organised the Peshawar meeting, didn’t turn up.Instead his lieutenants MianIftikharHussain and Ameer HaiderHoti spoke in his place. AftabSherpao and the BNP-M leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal were also among the speakers. The PDM head Maulana Fazlur Rahman and the PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were, therefore, the main speakers.

Bilawal repeated his claim that Imran Khan was a selected rather than an elected prime minister and said he would no longer be in office by January. He demanded that KP be given its due share in hydel-generation profits and royalty for gas and oil reserves in the province and provision of the promised funds to the erstwhile FATA after its merger with the KP. He paid tributes to late Peshawar High Court chief justice, Waqar Ahmad Seth, for convicting and sentencing the military dictator, GenPervez Musharraf (retired) in the high treason case.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman coined names such as Pakistani Trump for Imran Khan and said the people of Pakistan too have decided to get rid of the prime minister after the American people dumped Trump in the recent election. He claimed that Imran Khan wanted to cause Pakistan to disintegrate the way Mikhail Gorbachev had caused the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He said the PDM leaders respected the state institutions, but would criticise them if they continued to interfere in politics. Ruling out halting the PDM’s anti-government campaign, the Maulana remarked that it would be a grave sin to retreat from the battlefield after declaring war.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. He can be reached at [email protected]

More to come: Peshawar rally wasn’t the only point of contention between govt, PDM