An anti-government demonstration in Pakistan staged by a new alliance of opposition political parties attracted tens of thousands of crowds on Friday in scenes described by the prime minister’s opponents as “the beginning of the end” for Imran Khan.
The protest in Gujranwala on Friday was the first to be held by the Pakistani Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 1
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of the PDM, said: “This is an illegal government. It is imposed on us by the company. We reject this illegal rule. ”
Three times former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his first public speech since his release on bail, accused the UK of going to the medical army to overthrow his government and install Khan during the 2018 elections.
In a speech via video link from London, the former leader who was sentenced to prison on corruption charges said: “Should I blame Imran Khan for this disaster, unemployment and inflation or people who brought him to power? Who stole your vote and rigged your election? Who elected this government? ”
“They have prevented me from speaking, so my voice is suffocated and does not reach you, and your voice does not reach me … they have failed.”
He called for “a Pakistan for all” and called for punishment for the military figures he says installed Khan and violated the constitution. “I’m being branded a traitor right now because I’m talking about the constitution and democracy,” he said.
The night before the meeting, the government began mass prisons and arrests of about 500 opposition figures and activists, mainly from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.
Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N’s Secretary General, described how at midnight on the eve of the protest “the police jumped over the walls of our workers’ homes in Gujranwala and Punjab. They have arrested hundreds of our workers and booked hundreds of fake cases. ”
“Over the course of three decades of political experience, I have seen martial law introduced, but I have never witnessed this kind of brutality,” Iqbal said. “The attacks on our workers are still ongoing. They have put containers in the road, arrested workers and torn banners, but we are not stopping. It is the beginning of the end for Khan. ”
The PDM alliance, which was formed last month, is the first in Pakistan’s history that all opposition political parties have met to challenge military interference in politics. The three main opposition parties – PML-N, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) – are at the forefront of the movement.
The party leaders claim that the military, which wields enormous uncontrolled power in Pakistan, made rich the 2018 election that brought Khan’s Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf party to power and that his administration is only a puppet of the military agenda.
Iqbal said: “We do not need the involvement of military establishment in politics. It must stop. That is why all opposition is gathering today. There is only one way forward for Pakistan – democracy without military involvement. ”
The meeting is the first of many protests and public meetings that the PDM has planned in the coming weeks before embarking on a “long march” to parliament in the capital Islamabad in January 2021 to demand Khan’s resignation. Opposition leaders have said they will use mass agreements and no-confidence votes in parliament to overthrow the government.
The protests come at a time when the Khan government is struggling to cope with a severe economic downturn, unemployment and the worst inflation rates in Asia, causing a sharp rise in food prices, which has led to mass satisfaction.
Pakistan’s serious economic situation was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, in which the country’s economy contracted for the first time in 68 years in June.
Pakistan is considered to have handled the pandemic relatively well so far, reporting only 322,000 cases and 6,621 deaths in a population of 220 million, far below the surrounding India. However, there is a fear that complacency will pave the way for another wave.
At Friday’s rally, where 50,000 people piled into the stadium, no social distance was enforced and no facial expressions were visible to the crowd or to political leaders.
Banners with the faces of former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were held up by the crowds. Waseem Ahmed Khan, a resident of Rawalpindi, said he was there “for a democratic Pakistan where everyone will be held accountable and accountable”.
He said: “Since Imran Khan came to power, my monthly expenses have doubled to £ 300. Even then, it is difficult to feed my family on that amount as the Pakistani rupee has written off so poorly. Is it the new Pakistan, Imran Khan, who fought for? It is certainly not for the poor. ”
Liaqat Ali Qureshi, who had traveled from the nearby town of Gujrat to take part in the demonstration, said: “The government is crushing the poor. We were happy in our old Pakistan, but Imran Khan made false promises about a new Pakistan and plundered us. ”
He added: “Everyone knows that he became prime minister of those who have controlled Pakistani politics for over seven decades: the military establishment.”
There have been several arrests of leading opposition figures in retaliation for the growing anti-government criticism. Last month, anti-corruption forces arrested Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N, and the brother of Nawaz Sharif.
Last year, 70-year-old Sharif received an eight-week bail for traveling to the UK for medical treatment, but is now considered by the courts to have failed. The Pakistani authorities are trying to get him extradited back from Britain.
This week, an arrest warrant was also issued for former President Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a senior PPP figure.
Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, a PPP spokesman, said the Khan government “did what an authoritarian regime does”.
Khokhar said: “The government is using all methods from arrests to roadblocks to prevent us from protesting. They have started fake cases against opposition parties and leaders. I will not call it an elected government. ”