An anti-government demonstration in Pakistan, organized by a new alliance of opposition political parties, gathered crowds of tens of thousands of people on Friday, what opponents of the prime minister called “the beginning of the end” for Imran Khan.
Gujranwala’s protest on Friday was the first held by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 11 opposition political parties that have united to oust Khan.
Moulana Fazlur Rehman, PDM leader, said: “This is an illegal government. This was imposed on us by the establishment. We reject this illegal rule. “
Three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his first public speech since being released on bail to go to Britain for treatment, accused the army of overthrowing his government and taking possession of Khan during the 2018 election.
Speaking on video from London, the former leader, who was sentenced to prison on corruption charges, said: “Should I blame Imran Khan for this catastrophe, unemployment and inflation or the people who brought him to power? Who stole your vote and rigged your election? Who elected this government? “
“They forbade me to speak, so my voice is stifled and does not reach you, and your voice does not reach me … they have failed.”
Calling for “one Pakistan at all”, he called for the punishment of the military, which he believed had established Khan and violated the constitution. “Now I am called a traitor because I am talking about the constitution and democracy,” he said.
The night before the rally, the government launched mass arrests and arrests of about 500 opposition figures and activists, mostly from the opposition Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
PML-N Secretary-General Ahsan Iqbal described how at midnight on the eve of the protest, “police jumped over the walls of our workers’ house in Gujranwala and Punjab. They arrested hundreds of our workers and ordered hundreds of fake cases. “
“In three decades of political experience, I have seen martial law imposed, but I have never witnessed such brutality,” Iqbal said. “Raids against our workers are still ongoing. They put containers in us, arrested workers and tore banners, but we will not stop. This is the beginning of the end for the khan. “
For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the PDM Alliance, formed last month, is bringing together all opposition political parties to challenge military interference in politics. The three main opposition parties – the PML-N, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl Mosque (YUI-F) – are at the forefront of the movement.
Party leaders claim that the military, which has enormous uncontrolled power in Pakistan, rigged the 2018 election that brought the Khan’s party in Pakistan, Tehirek-e-Insaf, to power, and that his administration is only a puppet on the military agenda.
Iqbal said: “We do not need the participation of the military establishment in politics. This must stop. That is why the whole opposition will gather today. There is only one way in Pakistan – democracy without the participation of the military. “
The rally is the first of many protests and public rallies that the PDM has planned for the coming weeks before they begin a “long march” to parliament in the capital, Islamabad, in January 2021, demanding Khan’s resignation. Opposition leaders have said they are using mass resignations and a no-confidence vote in parliament to overthrow the government.
The protests come as the Khan’s government struggles to cope with a severe economic downturn, unemployment and the worst inflation rates in Asia, leading to a sharp rise in food prices, leading to mass discontent.
Pakistan’s dire economic situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and for the first time in 68 years, the country’s economy shrank in June.
It is estimated that Pakistan has so far coped well with the pandemic, reporting only 322,000 cases and 6,621 deaths among a population of 220 million, well below neighboring India. However, there are fears that complacency paves the way for the second wave.
At Friday’s rally, in which 50,000 people gathered at the stadium, no social distancing was applied, and no faces were seen on the faces of people in the crowd and political leaders..
Crowds raised banners with the faces of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Vasim Ahmed Khan, a resident of Rawalpindi, said he was there “for a democratic Pakistan, where everyone will be 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 with this amount because the Pakistani rupee has depreciated so much. Is this the new Pakistan that Imran Khan campaigned for? It’s definitely not for the poor. “
Ali Qureshi’s liakat, who came from the neighboring city of Gujrat to take part in the rally, said: “The government is crushing the poor. We were happy in our old Pakistan, but Imran Khan made false promises of a new Pakistan and robbed us. “
He added: “Everyone knows that his prime minister was made by those who controlled Pakistan’s policy for seven decades: the military establishment.”
In response to growing anti-government criticism, several arrests of senior opposition figures have been made. Last month, anti-corruption forces arrested Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N leader, and Nawaz Sharif’s brother.
Last year, the 70-year-old Sharif was given eight weeks bail to travel to Britain for treatment, but now the courts believe he has escaped. Pakistani authorities are trying to bring him back from Britain.
An arrest warrant was also issued this week for former President Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and a senior PPP figure.
Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, a PPP spokesman, said the Khan’s government “is doing what the authoritarian regime is doing.”
Hohar said: “The government is using all methods, from arrests to roadblocks, to stop us from protesting. They have started fake cases against opposition parties and leaders. I will not call it an elected government.”