–Aseefa Bhutto makes political debut, calls for overthrow of PTI government
–Maryam berates government for refusing permission for Multan rally
LAHORE: The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rally at Multan’s Ghanta Ghar Chowk carried on despite backlash from the incumbent government, the last-minute removal of barricades near the location, as well as a fire breaking out near the venue.
The Punjab government ordered the removal of barricades from the original rally venue, Qasim Bagh Stadium, only hours before the rally was to begin.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz and Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) leader Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari were at the venue along with other PDM leaders and their respective supporters.
As soon as PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz began her address, a fire broke out and engulfed a building near the venue. In spite of the flames, Maryam said that she was “convinced of the bravery of Multan’s people” as she had been told that the administration had refused to give permission for a rally, yet people had gathered to hold one.
“Nawaz Sharif told me that leave your worries at home and only think about the issues being faced by masses,” she said while referring to the passing of her grandmother. While speaking on the fact that she could not learn of her grandmother’s passing due to the signals being blocked during the Peshawar rally, Maryam accused the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of keeping the information from her.
Maryam also accused the PTI of having thrown Kashmir into India’s “lap”, and, regarding another matter of international controversy, demanded to know the intentions of the government’s relations with Israel.
“Who is behind the recent campaign in favour of Isreal in Pakistan?” she asked.
“This Covid-19 is very intelligent. It does not spread in Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) gatherings, it does not spread in government officials’ public meetings. It does not enter gatherings of 300 people. It only spreads in opposition rallies,” she taunted the incumbent government, once again referring to them as Covid-18.
“If Covid-18 [Imran Khan’s government] goes home then Covid-19 will also vanish,” she said, claiming that the incumbent government is a bigger threat than coronavirus which she said has destroyed the country’s economy and people’s livelihood.
“Two selectors are constantly trying to push this bus (government) forward, but this bus is not running,” she said, stressing that the incumbent government’s promise to make South Punjab a province was a lie.
Continuing to lambast Prime Minister Imran Khan, Maryam said that he “receives donations from mafias and then allows them to rob the public” and still claims to be honest.
Maryam quoted several examples of “corruption scandals” against PM Imran’s government, including the PTI foreign funding case, Billion Tree Tsunami project and several others.
She further said that Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari — who was attending the gathering on her brother Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s behalf — and herself had come out of their homes to fight for the rights of Pakistanis.
Kicking off her political career, the daughter of the late Benazir Bhutto said that the “selected will have to go now”.
“I pay tribute to all the party workers and activists that despite all hurdles created by the ‘selected government’, people have gathered in large number here,” she added. She further said that if the party workers were arrested, then the female leaders would rise to take charge.
“If they think we will be scared of arrests, they are deluded. If they arrest our brothers, every female worker of PPP will step outside to save our brothers and the country,” Aseefa said on the occasion.
PPP leader and former prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, while addressing the crowd, thanked them for making this rally a reality in spite of the incumbent government’s attempts to stop it.
“We had told them [the government] that this power show will be held, and I thank you all for proving that a reality.”
He added that the government had put various hurdles in the way, such as the lack of electricity arrangement or proper security. Earlier, the venue had been sealed, and had made it impossible to make proper arrangements. The closure of the venue by the Punjab police and Multan district administration had been due to the government’s orders banning large public gathering to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Reportedly, booking of transport buses from other cities to Multan had also been banned.
The last to address the rally, Fazl lauded the workers and supporters of PDM parties for attending the rally despite attempts by the government to stop the opposition from holding their public gathering, adding that the alliance had scared the administration off by “merely waving a baton”
“[The PTI government] had said they would not let the rally to be held at any cost but now you can see for yourself.”
The JUI-F chief also urged his party workers to attend the PDM’s Lahore rally on December 13 in large numbers, which will be the final face-off between the government and opposition before a likely march towards capital Islamabad.
Following the rally, Bilawal took to Twitter to express his views.
“Multan defeated selected today. PTI had challenged PDM that we could not hold our Jalsa. Turns out their jails couldn’t hold our workers, their force couldn’t stop the people; the streets of Multan today were a referendum for democracy and against puppet raj. Next stop Lahore IA,” he wrote on his official handle.
Earlier in the day, after the district administration refused to give permission for the fifth public meeting of the PDM in Multan citing a surge in coronavirus cases, Maryam rounded on the federal government saying it was “scared” of the anti-government alliance.
The PDM, an umbrella alliance of 11 opposition parties, is holding a rally in Multan today despite the resurgence of the fresh Covid-19 infections. Health authorities have repeatedly warned that the country is now in the midst of a second wave. The government portal keeping track of the contagious disease on Monday recorded 2,839 new infections after conducting 33,302 tests — a positivity ratio of 8.52 percent.
The organisers of the meeting have, however, announced to proceed as planned despite the arrest of several workers and leaders in a bid to prevent the gathering from going forward. In Multan, the district administration and opposition workers have been at odds over the holding of the event. Late Saturday night, the police arrested Ali Qasim Gillani, PPP leader and the son of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, and, the following day, shifted him to Multan jail.
Speaking to the reporters prior to her departure from Lahore, Maryam said that she would have delayed her political activities for a few more days to grieve her grandmother — whose funeral was held on Saturday — but the government’s “brutality against [PDM] workers pulled her towards Multan”.
نائب صدر مسلم لیگ (ن) مریم نواز شریف کی ملتان روانگی سے قبل جاتی عمرہ میں میڈیا سے گفتگو https://t.co/7rfMwqGQrY
— PML(N) (@pmln_org) November 30, 2020
The PML-N leaders condemned the crackdowns on PDM workers and supporters and said that the government was taking all steps to “dismantle” the meeting because it was “scared”.
In a question pertaining to holding public gatherings amid the pandemic, Maryam said that even police officials deployed along the route of the venue were not following standard operating procedures (SOPs) put in place to curtail the spread of the disease.
“Does corona[virus] spread only through opposition’s gatherings?” she asked.
“This rally has succeeded before it has even started,” she claimed, adding, “every container placed along the [venue’s] route, every checkpoint and all the arrests that are being made are a reflection of their [government] fear”.
Maryam was referring to the arrests of former premier Gillani’s son, along with other PPP activists.
“Whether this rally is held inside the stadium or outside, or on any road in Multan — God willing it will take place,” Maryam said today.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday slammed the opposition parties, accusing its leaders of not caring about people’s lives in their bid to protect their “looted wealth.”
Problem confronting us in Pak during COVID 19 is of a political leadership that has never gone through any democratic struggle, nor worked with ordinary citizens to understand the problems they confront, nor contributed in any substantive way for betterment of ordinary citizens.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) November 29, 2020
“Problem confronting us in Pakistan during COVID-19 is of a political leadership that has never gone through any democratic struggle, nor worked with ordinary citizens to understand the problems they confront, nor contributed in any substantive way for [the] betterment of ordinary citizens,” he said, adding the opposition leaders lacked “empathy” for the masses.
The premier said that the Multan rally was just another attempt to secure “NRO”, adding it would spread the virus and endanger lives and livelihoods.
Earlier, a spokesperson for the district administration said that it had completed arrangements to deal with any emergency situation. “An emergency plan has been prepared on the instructions of the deputy commissioner,” he said.
“Officials from the district administration, police and various organisations have taken over their duties. Officers of all institutions have been instructed to remain at the district headquarters for the next 72 hours.”
“Instructions have also been issued to set up three helipads in the area around the stadium while a bomb disposal squad has been readied.”
“A control room has been set up at the District HQ,” the spokesperson added.