Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied yesterday in the city of Karachi as part of a campaign to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, who they accuse of being installed by the military in a rigged 2018 election.
Nine major opposition parties formed a joint platform called the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) last month to begin a nationwide agitation against the government.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari; Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) vice presidents Maryam Nawaz and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi; Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chairman Mehmood Achakzai, among other leaders, arrived on the stage set up at Bagh-i-Jinnah late in the evening.
Addressing the gathering, Bilawal said the opposition’s struggle was not for the power but to ensure the right of the masses via real democratic system. “All those doors are being closed through which rights of the masses can be ensured,” he alleged.
He said Prime Minister Imran Khan was unaware of the issues being faced by masses including historic inflation and rising poverty, and that in the absence of democracy, the decisions were being made to protect the interest of few people.
Bilawal said his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and mother Benazir — both former prime ministers — sacrificed their lives to strengthen the democracy in the country. “We have to fight a war for the supremacy of law, democracy and Constitution.”
Maryam, the daughter and political heir of the former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, in her maiden address in this port city lashed out at the prime minister, saying she considered it “below dignity to respond to his allegations”.
“When I came to Karachi... I remembered Benazir Bhutto. I just met her once and she spent three hours with me and treated me as a mother would in that time. I will never forget her kindness,” said the PML-N vice president.
“You could tell how one rally of ours [in Gujranwala Friday] had made the PM shudder,” she said.
Maryam thanked the PPP leadership for giving her “historic” welcome, saying” “I did not find any difference between the streets of (her native) Lahore and Karachi”.
“We’ve come together to protect and rescue the people of Pakistan,” said Maryam.
“If this government is allowed to complete its term, that will destroy this country,” she told reporters before joining the rally.
The protest campaign comes at a time when Pakistan is facing economic crisis, with inflation touching double digits and negative growth.
The next general election is scheduled for 2023.
The rally in Karachi followed a protest by the alliance in eastern Gujranwala city on Friday, which was the biggest demonstration against Khan since he took office.
Speaking via video link from London to the Gujranwala gathering, former premier Nawaz Sharif accused army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa of rigging the 2018 elections and orchestrating his ouster in 2017 in what he said were trumped up charges aided by judiciary.
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its history since independence in 1947, denies meddling in politics or electoral wrongdoing. It has yet to respond specifically to Sharif’s accusations.
Khan came to power on an anti-graft platform and denies the army helped him win. On Saturday he defended the military and the judiciary, threatening to get tougher on the opposition parties.
But the opposition says Khan has failed the nation on all fronts from the economy to governance.
Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) is the main opposition party, has been a long-standing critic of the military. He was sacked by the Supreme Court in 2017 on corruption charges, and left for London last November for medical treatment.
Interestingly, he was not invited to speak in yesterday’s public meeting and the jury was still out on why that was so.
One of the notable speakers on stage last night was Mohsin Dawar, a Pakhtun member of the National Assembly — lower house of the country’s bicameral legislature — who was invited by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari whose party which hosted the power show.
Dawar, a prominent leader of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), was one of the speakers at the rally, and used the occasion to press for “real democracy and civilian supremacy”.
Heavy contingents of police were deployed across the route of the rally. According to a statement by Karachi police, about 3,740 officials were deployed along with 30 senior officials and 65 deputy superintendents of police to ensure fool proof security. Another 112 female officials of the special security unit were also posted in different spots. Additionally, 284 commandos of the SSU were also present at the venue and 159 officials of the Rapid Response Force pressed into service to provide security.
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