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Pakistan Democratic Movement to begin struggle against govt from October

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman (2nd-R), flanked by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, addresses a press conference, following the opposition’s multi-party conference, in Islamabad, on September 20, 2020. — YouTube

 ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties on Sunday, following an All Parties Conference, announced the establishment of the Pakistan Democratic Movement in a bid to “rid the country” of the incumbent PTI-led government.

Following a multi-party-conference in Islamabad — billed by the opposition as an “All Parties Conference” — in a media briefing, the opposition shared the plan of action devised to “rid the country” of the government.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, addressing the media, said that the opposition demands the “immediate resignation of selected Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Niazi”.

He said that a failure to do so will result in the joint opposition announcing country-wide protests that will include the participation of lawyers, traders, labourers, farmers, civil society, and the people in general.

“In the first phase, beginning October, rallies will be held in Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab.

“In the second phase, starting December, huge demonstrations will take country-wide. In the third phase, to begin in January next year, a long-march will move towards Islamabad,” Fazl said.

“To oust the selected government, the joint opposition will use all tactics, including a vote of no confidence and resignations from the parliament.”

Meanwhile, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif said that the opposition had no option but to arrive at these decisions as the incumbent government was “selected” and could not handle the country’s affairs, including the situation in Kashmir and the coronavirus crisis.

“The country’s future is at stake if the government continues its regime,” he said.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the opposition is headed towards its “mission” under the guidance and support of the PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and PPP chairman Asif Zardari.

Responding to a question, Bilawal said that if any party goes back on the commitments made today, then the people must hold it accountable.

The PPP chairman said the leader of the movement has not yet been decided.

He said that the movement would struggle not only against the government but also “the ones who brought it into power”.

When asked about the extent of the opposition’s unity going forward, Bilawal said that in every situation the opposition would stand together, and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman would not be abandoned.

“A committee comprising senior members has been constituted and when the numbers are right it will decide when to strike,” he said.

When asked about whether another candidate for the post of prime minister from PTI was acceptable, Bilawal rejected the suggestion and said that it was unacceptable.

Speaking about the recent passing of FATF-related legislation in the parliament, Bilawal said that the opposition demanded that the votes be recounted, but the speaker shot down the demand.

He said that the opposition is not one to deceive the people regarding this, insisting that the voting was “rigged”.

“We have always tackled non-democratic forces with democratic ways, ” he said, adding that the opposition will not engage in politics of coercion. 

Opposition’s 26-point charter of demands

At the outset of the media briefing, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman read out the parties’ 26-point charter of demands.

The meeting declared that the “incumbent selected government has been granted artificial stability by the establishment that has imposed it on the people through rigged elections”, said the JUI-F chief.

He said that the forum demands transparent elections in the country and calls for electoral reforms.

“The selected government has ruined the common man’s life with record-high inflation, unemployment, and taxes […] we demand that the prices of flour, sugar, ghee, electricity and gas be immediately brought down.”

Due to the “selected” government’s failed policies, the crumbling economy is posing a serious danger to the country’s atomic power and sovereignty, said Fazl.

“The 1973 Constitution, the 18th Amendment and the current National Finance Commission (NFC) award are a reflection of the nation’s united viewpoint and we will fight to guard these from any attack and will protect our provincial autonomy. No compromise will be made on this.”

He said that the opposition rejects the “nefarious intentions” of introducing a presidential system in the country.

“The selected government is responsible for the fall of Kashmir,” Fazl said, alleging that India’s move to annex Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir was made “with the incumbent government’s support”.

The APC expressed grave concerns over the “complete failure” of the government’s policy regarding Afghanistan, said the JUI-F chief.

He said that the meeting condemns “unprecedented” gags on the media and censorship. It demands that Editor-in-Chief Jang and Geo Media Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman be released along with other media persons.

It also condemns the “false cases based on political revenge” against political leaders, leaders, and activists, he said.

According to the declaration, due to the “non-implementation” of the National Action Plan there has been “a surge in terrorism”.

The forum has also expressed grave concerns over the dismal law and order situation, saying that the government had “failed miserably” to ensure the basic rights of citizens.

Fazl said that the “inexperienced government” has put the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into danger”. The opposition demands that CPEC projects be expedited and the motorway and railways on the western routes be developed on an emergency basis, he added.

“The selected government has paralysed the parliament and the voice of the opposition was being suppressed […] the opposition will not cooperate with the rubber-stamp Parliament anymore,” the JUI-F chief declared.

The opposition has also called for elections in Gilgit-Baltistan to be held on time and “without intervention”.

“After the elections, through national consensus, steps should be taken to include GB within Pakistan’s political parameters”, he said.

Fazl said that the tribal areas have been made no-go areas, and that the forum demands an end to this.

He said that a committee has been constituted to draft a Charter of Democracy which would guide the country to becoming the Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam had envisioned.

The JUI-F chief added that a truth commission will also be formed which will “bring forth Pakistan’s true history since 1947”.

‘Non-political role of state institutions’

Prior to the press conference, PML-N secretary-general Ahsan Iqbal said that the parties have agreed that the “artificial setup that was established in 2018” had failed on several fronts and has made the country nearly ungovernable.

Giving the government more time will be playing with the country’s future, he said, while speaking in Geo New’ programme “Naya Pakistan”.

Talking about what the opposition has planned, he said that it would be a phase-wise campaign, that would take place within as well as outside of parliament.

The PML-N leader, responding a question on whether the opposition would resign from the assemblies, said that such a move would be akin to dropping an “atom bomb”.

“In wars, you don’t drop atom bombs suddenly,” he said, adding that at the same time the people were “asking the opposition to get rid of the government”.

“It has been 72 years and the country is still not stable; countries like Bangladesh and Afghanistan are ahead of us. We cannot let this continue”, Iqbal said.

“We want a non-political role of the state’s institutions,” he added.

Speaking about the change that the opposition has demanded, he said that the country needs “a new covenant” — like the one signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Iqbal said that Nawaz “wants to come back to Pakistan” and that once his doctors approve, he will.

Conference a ‘turning point’

Addressing the conference through a video link, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif thanked former president and PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari for the well wishes and expressed hope “that our efforts will surely come to fruition”.

“I am really thankful to all the opposition leaders for providing me with an opportunity to address people of my country. Although I am living outside the country, I’m well aware of the circumstances and hardships our country is going through.

“I perceive this conference as a turning point for the country where we can make major decisions for the country with bravery,” Nawaz said, adding that it was an opportunity to make important decisions as those pinning hopes to them would otherwise be disappointed.

“I am speaking from my experience of serving this country; the soul of democracy is when people are allowed to bring their opinions forward. According to the law, our democratic system relies on the opinions and say of the people.

Pakistan ‘a laboratory’ for experiments

“The democratic systems around the world follow the same principle. When public votes are not respected and the verdict is decided even before the elections, then we can guess how the people of this country are deceived and dodged.

“Unfortunately, Pakistan has been the laboratory for such experiments. It’s not even taken into account that the democratic structure of the country is demolished due to such tactics and the public loses faith in the system.

“During the 73-long history of Pakistan, everybody knows that no democratic leader could complete their tenure in the country whereas the dictators ruled the country and completed their tenure,” the PML-N supremo underlined.

“The people who followed the laws were put in jail. It is not a new thing in Pakistan that dictators are always set free and are not held accountable for whatever they do,” Nawaz said, referring to the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

The PML-N founder also said the “root cause” of Pakistan’s problems was a “state above the state” kind of a situation in the country. Reiterating the opposition’s claims of elections not being fair, he said the PTI regime “would not have come to power in the first place had these elections were not rigged”.

“Rigging elections is unconstitutional and robbery of people’s rights. It is a serious crime. I want to ask a question today. Why RTS (Result Transmission System) was shut for hours during the election.

“The former chief election commissioner and secretary will have to answer all these questions.”

Commenting on the foreign policy, the former premier maintained that country’s “good reputation in the international community is ruined because of the current policies and incapable regime”.

“It is because of this puppet government that India annexed Kashmir,” Nawaz said. “Why is the world not ready to listen to us today?

‘Everyone would be held accountable’

“Why are we alone,” he asked, adding that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made statements that disappointed Saudi Arabia. “We must strengthen the OIC,” Nawaz asserted, referring to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

The PML-N leader also lambasted the PTI government over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), saying the multi-billion dollar project backed by China was being treated like BRT Peshawar.

Maintaining that it was imperative to scrutinise the role of National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the former premier said the watchdog’s boss, Justice (r) Javed Iqbal was is caught misusing his position but no action was taken against him.

“Soon, a day will come when everyone would be held accountable.”

“Imran Khan himself is involved in increasing the price of sugar in the country,” the PLM-N supremo alleged. “Will the NAB arrest him,” Nawaz asked.

Concluding his speech, the former PM once again thanked the PPP and reminded the leaders that now was the time to get united.

“We have to decide that we are one and if the APC is succeeded in doing so, then this conference is successful.”

Bilawal demands level-playing field

PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari hailed the PML-N founder for giving a comprehensive speech and demanded a level-playing field in not only elections but in courts, media forums, and in the Parliament as well.

“As Nawaz Sharif has summed it all up that the failure of a democratic system is the failure of the society,” Bilawal said.

He added that everyone had seen that if the leaders were not elected through the public’s votes, the public welfare was always neglected. “Instead of facilitating the doctors and health professionals, the government targeted them and did not support them the way they were deserved,” Bilawal said.

The PPP chairperson also criticised the government over the state of media freedom in the country.

“When the political leaders are not permitted to present their viewpoint, if media is punished and censored of what they broadcast, then how do we expect that a common man can speak his mind?”

Unprecedented ‘stringent censorship’

Earlier, in his welcome note, Zardari had thanked the attendees, noting that the APC should have taken place quite a while ago. Criticising the government for not “allowing” Nawaz’s speech to be broadcast, he said they showed former president Pervez Musharraf’s interview.

“We have never seen such stringent censorship across the country,” Zardari stated. “This reflects on the weakness of the government. It is impossible to curtail the emerging voices of the media.

“Today, a child from Balochistan has access to media and can voice out his concern.”

The ex-president also especially welcomed PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, saying he was “fully aware of the hardships you’ve been through and respect that”.

“My solidarity is with Maryam Nawaz Sharif; she’s like my daughters, she has suffered a lot in her struggle, and we stand by her.

‘Tried to save democracy’

“The thinking pattern of the selected prime minister is that of a major,” Zardari said. “Since the very beginning we’ve been speaking against the fake mandate and this manipulation. Bilawal is probably the first leader to raise concerns that the government is selected.

“We tried to save democracy in the country since past two years. The first necessity to run a democratic state is democracy. We have raised voice for Balochistan and have been speaking for Punjab, especially South Punjab,” he added.

The PPP leader said he would inform the Foreign Office about developments during his tenure instead of the other way round and asking them for permission.

“When I was asked by authorities during my tenure as the president if I ‘asked the Foreign Office’, I used to reply that I have ‘informed the Foreign Office’,” he stated.

“My message to Pakistani people is that we have to be united together to save democracy in the country and with the press, we will win through this,” he added.

PM Imran allows Nawaz’s speech

Shortly after the APC commenced, sources informed Geo News that Prime Minister Imran Khan had allowed TV channels across Pakistan to broadcast Nawaz’s speech.

“Nawaz Sharif will expose himself to the people with his speech,” sources quoted the premier as saying.

“Nawaz Sharif will lie so let him lie,” PM Imran said, as per the sources. “The people should be allowed to decide for themselves.”

The sources further revealed that the premier’s advisers and aides told him there had been decisions wherein an “accused” was barred from making statements and that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) should be asked to implement such a court decision.

PM Imran, however, did not agree with the suggestion of his advisers and special assistants, sources added, and rejected their recommendation to pen a letter to the PEMRA.

Bilawal ‘only read out from a scripted speech’

Speaking to Geo News following Nawaz’s speech, PM’s aide on interior and accountability, Shahzad Akbar, said the “nation just heard, against the law, the live speech of a convicted criminal”.

“And then they claim that the media is not free in Pakistan! They say ‘vote ko izzat dou’ [respect the vote] and as usual, as soon as the wind blows, they abandon the voters and flee to London,” Akbar said.

“[Nawaz] is adamant that only those judges are acceptable to him who acquit him despite the evidence,” he added.

The adviser also criticised Bilawal, stating that since the PPP boss could “only read out from a scripted speech, he was claiming ‘the former prime minister is not being allowed to speak'”.

“The whole nation is watching the real face of your former prime minister, as well as you! It seems that Sherry [Rehman] is sitting far away and was unable to correct the written speech.

“The opposition tried to blackmail the [government] over the FATF bill,” Akbar added, terming the APC as “nothing more than a gang of fugitive criminals and accused individuals”.

‘Disastrous consequences’

Earlier in the morning, PPP’s Bilawal and delegations of the PML-N — including party president Shehbaz Sharif and VP Maryam Nawaz — and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman arrived at the venue, with other leaders joining over the past hour.

Shortly after reaching the APC venue, Bilawal criticised the ruling PTI, saying on Twitter “2 years of this selected experiment has had disastrous consequences”.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman spoke to the media ahead of the APC, saying today’s was “a gathering of 12 parties and all opposition leaders are coming”.

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