LAHORE: Rival opposition parties joined hands with Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in an anti-government protest in a bid to seek justice for victims of the 2014 shootings in Lahore’s Model Town.
The allied opposition parties — which included the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Awami Muslim League (AML), Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), and others — threatened to topple the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led government and said they would announce their next course of action in the coming days.
Addressing the rally on Lahore’s Mall Road, PAT chief Tahirul Qadri claimed the Sharifs would not be able to step out of their homes if he mobilises his workers.
“You won’t be able to step out of Jati Umrah, if I ask my workers,” Qadri said, taking the stage once again in the second session of the rally.
“We are holding a meeting within two days, and will announce a date. We will call a meeting of APC parties, its steering committee,” he said.
“It has been decided that you will go home; you will have to go home,” he warned the ruling PML-N. He said the joint opposition would soon announce its next course of action.
Qadri, however, failed to bring Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari on the stage at the same time, with the PPP co-chairperson and his party leaders addressing the first session of the rally, and PTI leadership dominating the second half of the show of political power in the heart of Lahore.
Khan, who is a vocal opponent of Zardari, listened to the PPP co-chairperson’s address on television at Jahangir Tareen’s residence and departed for the venue only after Zardari stepped down from the stage.
Imran flays parliament for allowing ‘criminal’ to become party chief
Addressing the rally, Khan lambasted the parliament for allowing a ‘criminal’ to be elected a party president.
“I curse the parliament that made a criminal the president of a party,” he said, in an apparent reference to the PML-N’s decision to elect ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif as its president.
“The two [Sharif] brothers are responsible for the Model Town incident,” said Imran. “I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it [Model Town incident] was done on orders received by the police.”
He accused the Sharif brothers of being ‘fascists’ and claimed that they were not even ‘remotely democratic’.
“I know them since the past forty years,” he said. “They get people roughed up.”
While addressing the rally earlier in the day, Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid announced his resignation from the National Assembly and called on the PTI chairperson Imran Khan to join him in the move.
Imran expressed ‘complete agreement’ with Sheikh Rashid’s decision, and said he would consult his party over the matter.
“I will consult my party over it, and it is very likely that we may join you [Sheikh Rashid],” he said, adding that resignations of his party were not accepted when they were submitted for the first time.
Qadri calls for ‘end to sultanate of Sharifs’
PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri said that they do not want to take a step against Pakistan’s constitution and democracy, and only want an end of the “sultanate of Sharifs.”
Addressing the allied opposition rally, Qadri thanked leaders and workers from all political parties for attending the show of strength in Lahore. He said that they all had gathered to get justice for the victims of Model Town tragedy.
“Entire political leadership is here to honour humanity, to empower the weak, to give voice to the voiceless,” the PAT chief said.
“We have gathered here to save the country from Sheikh Mujeeb of a new era.”
He lamented that the rights of the people were being usurped and the national treasury plundered in the country.
Qadri maintained that they do not want to sabotage peace in the country. “We only want to put an end to your cruelty. If we had to take the law into our own hands, then we would not have tolerated tragedies.”
He maintained that their protest is aimed at getting justice for the oppressed.
“The purpose of this gathering is to get rid of the enemy. We want to end the sultanate of Sharifs,” he said.
Only threat to Pakistan is from Jati Umra: Zardari
Former President and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari while addressing the rally, said Pakistan faced danger from Jati Umrah referring to the Sharif family residence.
“They [PML-N] know that they can be disqualified any time, but I just think for Pakistan,” said Zardari.
The PPP co-chairman also thanked the attendees for showing solidarity with the Model Town incident victims and promised to get justice.
“My brothers and sisters, I thank you for coming to this protest here. We will get justice for Model Town victims, and Zainab.”
Senior PPP leaders including Khursheed Shah, Aitzaz Ahsan, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Nayyar Hussain Bukhari and Manzoor Wattoo among others also address protesters from the stage, set up atop a container in front of the Punjab Assembly.
Qadri and Zardari also held a meeting in Lahore earlier in the day, which followed a joint press conference by the two figures.
Speaking to the media, Zardari said the time had come for the rulers of the country to go home. He said that Sharif brothers still wish to save their rule.
He said the purpose of their protest was to get rid of incumbent Punjab government and they would soon get them out of power.
Mustafa Kamal’s entry
Mustafa Kamal, head of the Pak Sarzameen Party, also arrived in Lahore today to attend the rally. Addressing the media at the airport, Kamal said he’s here on Qadri’s invitation.
“People of Lahore were shot at but its effects reached all the way to Karachi,” said Kamal.
Qadri had announced the launch of the protest movement against the PML-N government from January 17 to seek justice for victims of the Model Town tragedy.
His announcement came following a meeting of steering committee of a PAT-hosted all parties conference (APC) on January 8.
The Model Town incident on June 17, 2014, had resulted in deaths of 14 people and injured around 100 others during an ‘anti-encroachment operation’ by the Punjab Police outside Idara Minhajul Quran, the PAT’s head office.
Strict security, gridlocks in Lahore
The Punjab police had deployed over 6,000 police personnel, including 11 SPs and 24 DSPs, for security, DIG Operations Haider Ashraf, told media.
Participants were checked at three points and alternative traffic arrangements made for the rally.
The arteries around the Mall Road remain congested in the wake of the demonstration. The flow of traffic remained affected on Shahrah-e-Fatima Jinnah, Kachehri Road, Hall Road, Cooper Road, Boharwala Chowk and Egerton Road.
Similarly, nearby educational institutes, including the Punjab University, as well as surrounding markets and the Lahore Zoo were closed.
Rally aimed at creating disorder: law minister
On Tuesday, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah that the PAT rally was aimed at creating disorder and not to seek justice for Model Town victims.
Speaking to media, he has reports the rally will continue till May 30, adding that it won’t be able to bring down the government.
He reiterated the provincial government’s position on security preparations that police personnel deployed in and around the venue will be unarmed. There will be no use of force as long as protesters remain peaceful, he added.
The government has also decided to deploy Rangers outside Punjab Assembly, Governor House and other sensitive locations.