PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz on Monday left her residence in Lahore to attend Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) rally in Multan, where the district administration and opposition workers have been at odds over the holding of the public event at a time when the incidence of coronavirus is rising.
Speaking to the media prior to her departure, she said she would have delayed her political activities for a few more days to grieve her grandmother — who was laid to rest in Lahore on Saturday — but the government’s “brutality against [PDM] workers was pulling her towards Multan”.
She condemned the crackdowns on PDM workers and supporters by the administration and said that the government was taking all steps to dismantle today’s public meeting because it was “scared”. In a question pertaining to holding public gatherings amid the novel coronavirus, Maryam said that even police officials deployed along the route of the venue were not following standard operating procedures.
“Is corona only spread through opposition’s gatherings?” she asked.
“This rally has succeeded before it has even started,” Maryam claimed, adding, “every container placed along the [venue’s] route, every checkpost and all the arrests that are being made are a reflection of their (government) fear”. Maryam was referring to the arrests of former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son, Qasim Gilani, along with other PPP activists.
In a late Saturday night move, police launched a crackdown on the PPP workers, who had earlier gone against government orders and overcame obstacles to take control of the stadium, and got the venue vacated.
The Lohari Gate police on Sunday registered two first information reports against 80 identified and 800 unidentified workers under sections 353/156, 379/506, 427/148 and 149 of Pakistan Penal Code besides section 17 of the Punjab Infectious Diseases (Prevention and Control) Ordinance 2020. According to the FIRs, activists armed with clubs damaged the barriers and fence installed to control the law and order situation and attacked police.
“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.
Today’s gathering, which is scheduled to be held in Multan’s Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh Stadium, is part of a series of public meetings the PDM is holding across the country to pressurise the PTI government to step down. It will be attended by PDM leadership including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman as well as Maryam and leaders of other parties. PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will not attend today’s gathering as he is in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19. His sister, Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari, will attend and address the public meeting in his place.
The government, meanwhile, says it is blocking the Multan show to check the spread of coronavirus. The district administration removed flags and banners of PDM parties from the stadium and city roads and Deputy Commissioner Aamar Khattak, on the recommendation of the city police officer, sent PPP leader Qasim Gilani to the Multan district jail for 30 days.
Speaking to the media today, Special Assistant to Punjab Chief Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the government “is not stopping opposition from holding gatherings but don’t trample over SOPs and court decisions”. She further said the government did not want to use force.
In a statement issued on PPP’s Youm-i-Tasees (founding day) today, Bilawal said: “PPP has invited the entire PDM leadership to the public meeting [held to observe] Youm-i-Tasees. Today every democratic worker will reach the venue despite the tactics, brutality and arrests by the selected government.
“Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari will represent me and welcome PDM leadership to the grand Youm-i-Tasees gathering.”
چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری کا پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی کے 53 ویں یوم تاسیس پر پیغام
پارٹی قیادت خواہ کارکنان نے جمہوریت و مضبوط پاکستان کی خاطر آمروں اور ان کی باقیات کے مظالم کا مقابلہ کیا: بلاول بھٹو زرداری@BBhuttoZardari
— PPP (@MediaCellPPP) November 30, 2020
There were also reports of police raids and arrest of opposition workers from various cities and towns of south Punjab. Containers were also placed along roads leading to Multan. The police also arrested Makhdoom Zahid Bahar Hashmi, son-in-law of firebrand leader Javed Hashmi.
Covid-19 and PDM gatherings
As the country reels from the second wave of Covid-19 — which experts have termed to be more “lethal” than the first one — the government has urged the opposition alliance to suspend their public gatherings in order to curb the spread.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Imran Khan lashed out at political leaders whose “sole and desperate goal is to save their families’ looted wealth and corruption” and once again declared that the government will not grant an NRO even if pressurised.
“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,” tweeted the prime minister.
Without naming the PDM or any opposition politician, the premier in a series of tweets said that due to the increase in Covid-19 cases in the country, the government needs to impose smart lockdowns but the opposition “want(s) jalsas not caring for the lives and safety of people”.
Last week, the prime minister had categorically stated that the government would not give permission to the opposition to hold its rallies in Multan and other cities.
“The coronavirus is spreading dangerously, therefore the opposition should postpone PDM public meetings,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.
The National Command and Operations Centre, which is overseeing the situation and response to Covid-19 across the country, has also warned that if the virus spread is not curbed, Pakistan would face the same situation it faced in June, unless public changes its attitud