PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari vowed an “end” to the incumbent government with January as its “last month in power”, as he addressed a Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rally in Peshawar on Sunday.
The gathering was held despite failing to procure permission to do so in light of rising coronavirus cases as well as a warning given by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government of a threat to security.
In view of reports received of a possible terror attack on the gathering, strict security arrangements were made.
The central leadership of the PDM, including Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Maryam Nawaz, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Aimal Wali Khan, Sardar Akhtar Mengal and Aftab Sherpao, were all present on stage, with a series of speeches by various political leaders delivered one after another.
Bilawal delivered a long speech at the gathering, saying that now people will decide how Pakistan will be governed and what kind of leadership will rule it.
The PPP chairman claimed protests are taking place in Gilgit-Baltistan against election rigging there.
“A voice is rising from within Gilgit-Baltistan, saying ‘do not steal the vote’,” Bilawal said.
Addressing the people of the province in particular, he said they will never be left to fend for themselves, accusing the incumbent government of abandoning them.
“The entire Pakhtunkhwa is demanding ‘go, Imran, go!’,” he claimed, adding: “This is the land of the brave, the honourable.”
He said that the people of the land had given innumerable sacrifices in the fight against terrorism “but the selected did not dare raise his voice against terrorists”.
Bilawal said that terrorism has reared its ugly head once more and “we will not allow this puppet to let it take hold again”.
“We know how to protect this land,” he added.
Bilawal, speaking of the government’s statements in the lead up to the rally, accusing the Opposition of “playing with people’s lives” as coronavirus cases are rapidly on the rise, said: “When it is time for the people to protest, the government is reminded of coronavirus but when we demand salary increments for doctors, nurses and paramedics on the frontline, they forget all about it.”
The PPP chairman said that the “burden of the selected government” is being borne by the common man.
“First there was a flour, sugar, and oil crisis, and now a gas crisis will arise,” he said, adding that people cannot even buy eggs, let alone chicken any more at the rates they are going for.
He vowed to give KP its due share, lamenting that due to the “incompetency of the FBR (Federal Board of Revenue”) Rs160bn were not given to the province.
Bilawal asked why it is that the benefits of the China-Pak Economic Corridor are not being shared with the people of KP.
“These rulers shouted the most against corruption but turned out to be the most corrupt,” he said, adding: “Does NAB not see what kind of corruption was done in Malam Jabba? Does it not question how sewing machines led to the development of buildings in New York?”
Bilawal swore that NAB itself will be “held accountable”. “When the time comes for a reckoning, people will hold them all accountable,” he said.
In the midst of Bilawal’s address, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz briefly appeared on stage and addressed rally participants, asking for prayers for her grandmother who passed away this morning in London as well as the health of her father, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Fazl-ur-Rehman says retreat would be ‘a sin’
PDM chief Fazl-ur-Rehman was the last to address the event. He regretted PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz was unable to attend and expressed his condolences over the death of her grandmother Shamim Akhtar.
He also extended his condolences to the families of Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi over their passing.
Fazl-ur-Rehman said that all political parties agree and it is the movement’s “clear stance” that the incumbent government came to power through a “rigged election”.
He claimed with the huge turnout witnessed in all the PDM rallies so far, the government has been “left bewildered”.
The PDM chief said that large rallies were held at Gujranwala, Quetta and Karachi and today, the Peshawar rally is a referendum. The people have “rejected the rigged government”, he claimed.
“We have declared war, retreating from the battlefield is a grave sin,” he added.
Fazl-ur-Rehman accused the government of “destroying” Pakistan’s economy and remaining unsuccessful on the diplomatic front. “You are unreliable in the eyes of the nation and its neighbours,” he said.
“We have come together to save the country,” Fazl-ur-Rehman said, adding: “The future of the country is insecure under the rule of these people.”
“We will make the country the Pakistan it was meant to be — a nation with the rule democracy and the supremacy of the parliament,” he vowed.
He said the Opposition will “never compromise on NFC (National Finance Commission) award” and the province’s due rights.
‘People boycotted rally’
Information minister Shibli Faraz, in his television address, paid tribute to the people of KP. “They boycotted the gathering and proved that they are people with political insight,” Faraz remarked.
He went on to say that the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa “protected themselves from corona at the request of (Prime Minister) Imran Khan” and “thwarted the anti-people agenda” of the Opposition.
Faraz claimed that the people’s “lack of interest” and “low participation” reflects people’s “distrust in the Opposition”.
“The corona epidemic is a fact, not a myth,” he said, adding: “This insistence on rallies despite a court order is a reflection of (Opposition’s) stubbornness and the value they place on people’s lives”.
He said that the Opposition has “always preferred their own interest” over respect for law and public health.
“I ask the participants to quarantine themselves.”
Security, coronavirus threats
Special Assistant to the Chief Minister KP Kamran Bangash said that a “call was traced this morning” due to which the threat of terrorism has increased for the public gathering.
Bangash said that the security of the rally has been further enhanced and the PDM leaders and the management of the venue have also been informed about the threats to security.
It must be noted that after the spike in infections in the country owing to the second wave of coronavirus, the government has banned all outdoor gatherings of more than 300 people.
According to a statement by the government, the organisers of the gathering are responsible for the implementation of safety precautions at the rally, and will be held accountable for any death or spread of coronavirus as a result of the event.