Pakistan: Tens of thousands of supporters of PM’s party gather in capital
By Aamir Latif
ISLAMABAD (AA): Tens of thousands of supporters of Pakistan’s ruling party gathered Sunday in the capital, Islamabad, in a show of support ahead of a no-confidence vote against beleaguered Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Waving the national and tri-color party flags, supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from across the country assembled near the parliament house to express their solidarity with their leader, who is facing the toughest moment of his three-and-a-half-year tenure.
According to independent observers, 50,000 to 60,000 people attended the rally, including a large number of women activists, in what was termed “the biggest rally ever” in Islamabad by the party.
PTI leaders put the figure at over 200,000.
The government did not allow private TV channels to bring their cameras and equipment for the live telecast, citing “security threats.” Only the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) aired the live footage.
Charged participants rose to their feet and chanted slogans as Khan, attired in a white Shalwar Kameez (long shirt and loose-fitting trousers) and black waistcoat, appeared on the wide stage.
The national anthem and other songs were played before Khan’s keynote speech amid the din of drum-beating and anti-opposition slogans.
Speakers including the premier himself targeted three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, accusing them of “toeing a foreign agenda” to dislodge Khan.
Without naming any country, Khan claimed that an “international conspiracy” is being hatched to dislodge his government just because “of my independent foreign policy.”
“Efforts are being made to change the government in Pakistan through foreign funding and with the help of internal elements,” he went on to charge while reading from a letter handed to him by a party leader in the closing minutes of his over hour-long speech.
“We have been threatened in writing. But I want to tell you, the time has changed. We will not compromise on our national interests.
“I have this letter, which is proof of this threat. But I am not showing this in the national interest. If anyone doubts this letter, I am ready to show this to him, but off the record,” he said, waving the piece of paper, which according to him was a letter from a foreign power.
“We will disclose further details of this foreign conspiracy at an appropriate time very soon,” he maintained, accusing Nawaz Sharif, who is currently in London, of being part of the alleged international conspiracy.
“I am not scared (to disclose the details of this conspiracy), but am not doing this just in the interest of my country,” he further said.
Labelling his political opponents “corrupt rats,” an emotional Khan said they were trying to blackmail the government and “come what may, I will not forgive them even if my government goes.”
He charged the opposition with offering “bribes” to lawmakers to topple his government.
Enumerating his economic achievements, Khan said he saved Pakistan from a $1.2 billion penalty imposed by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in favor of Turkish power rental company Karkey with the help of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2019.
Things moving towards fresh elections
Khan, who is facing a daunting no-confidence vote by the allied opposition, has been in the public for over two weeks holding rallies and meetings across the country.
The cricketer-turned premier conceded a setback minutes before the rally when one of his ministers and leader of an allied party, Shahzain Bugti, resigned from the government and announced that he would support the opposition’s no-trust motion.
At least 13 dissident lawmakers have already announced their support for the no-confidence move.
Some political observers see the ruling party’s rallies as a future election campaign as things, according to them, are moving towards fresh elections.
Others assert that the show of strength is for the “establishment,” a term to designate the country’s powerful military, which currently stands “neutral.”
The PTI leaders, however, contend that “today’s massive show of strength” will force the dissidents to change their mind.
The opposition, meanwhile, has also set off on a “long march” on the capital and plans to hold a counter rally on Monday.
Thousands of opposition supporters have already gathered at the Kashmir highway and the Faizabad junction, a gateway to the capital, blocking the two sites from traffic.
The Interior Ministry has deployed over 15,000 paramilitary troops and police to avert any clashes between the rival activists.
Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is leading a march in northeastern Punjab province to join the opposition rally in Islamabad.
Opposition parties filed the no-confidence motion earlier this month, claiming Khan has lost his parliamentary majority.
The defection of dissident lawmakers and suggestions that coalition partners may join the opposition are said to have left Khan short of the minimum 172 seats needed for a simple majority in parliament.
But the allies — Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-I-Azam), Balochistan Awami Party and Muttahida Quami Movement remain undecided whether to support or oppose the no-confidence motion.
The government has also filed a court petition to determine whether dissident votes against the prime minster can be declared invalid.
Under the law, parliamentarians who defect could lose their seats if they choose to vote against their party.
Khan claims to have a “surprise” for the opposition and has said he will emerge victorious.
Voting on the no-confidence motion is expected this week.
[Photo: Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) holds a rally as tens of thousands of supporters of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party gather ahead of a no-confidence vote against beleaguered prime minister in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 27, 2022. Photographer: Muhammed Semih Uğurlu/AA]
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