LAHORE: Barely two weeks after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf staged its Raiwind protest over the Panamagate scandal, Imran Khan found himself mobilising his party workers for yet another protest — this time with the added threat of shutting down the federal capital.
Imran has also warned that the PTI lockdown would continue until the prime minister steps down or offers himself up for accountability.
Originally, the party had planned to paralyse life in the federal capital right after the Raiwind march. But since then the party seems to have revisited its decision, realising also that Oct 30 could hardly be an effective date for its lockdown strategy since it falls on a Sunday.
The party earlier announced that the roads leading to state institutions will be closed in a bid to prevent the government from functioning. But more ominously it also hinted at the possibility of a prolonged protest.As part of the mobilisation campaign which will mainly target Punjab, Imran Khan travelled to Lahore on Saturday where he met with the party’s provincial and district leadership to rally supporters for Islamabad protest. Upon his arrival in Lahore, Imran announced that the party would finalise the date of the shutdown today (Sunday) after a meeting scheduled in Islamabad while stating that the date may be revised.Earlier this week, party leaders had reportedly raised the issue of the Islamabad protest falling on a weekly holiday, voicing fears that it would impact the image of the shutdown which aims to bring the city to a halt.
The issue was also broached during a meeting of the party’s central Punjab leadership with their chief on Saturday. Opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed says the date may be extended by another three days
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Rasheed said the move was being done based on October 30 falling on a Sunday and in the wake of the Supreme Court Bar Association elections. With the party gearing up for closing down the capital, Rasheed says their mobilisation was in full swing — the first episode of which included Imran’s visit to Lahore.
Speaking to media on Saturday, Imran reiterated his demands for accountability questioning PM Nawaz Sharif regarding his reluctance to come clean. “If you haven’t committed theft, why are you scared of accountability?” he asked. Accusing the government of resorting to delaying tactics, he also took a jab at state institutions for failing to perform. “If a corrupt mafia in power doesn’t make itself accountable and institutions don’t deliver justice, people are left with no option but to come out on the streets,” he added.
The government has been critical of the plan with the Punjab Law Minister having recently termed Imran Khan a suicidal politician over his plans for shutting down the capital. PTI’s chief retorted back saying only those who were corrupt felt threatened by their plan. With the Raiwind protest having managed to gather tens of thousands of protesters, Imran claimed that Islamabad, too, would stand with them. Party leaders have said an ambitious target of 1 million protestors has been set for the shutdown. Over a question regarding participation of the opposition, Imran responded by saying that the invitation stood but added that regardless the party intended to come out with the public. Back to back meetings of the party are scheduled for Sunday and Monday which will deliberate over the date as well as the policy-related planning for the protest.
This is not the first time the party has resorted to shutting down cities. Earlier during the party’s anti-rigging campaign after the 2013 general elections it shut down major cities including Faisalabad, Lahore and Karachi in 2014 paralyzing the cities for an entire day. However, this time Imran Khan has said that the party intends to prevent government institutions from functioning. “We will block roads leading to government institutions but we will remain peaceful. This is a non-violent struggle,” he said. But with the government warning against such a protest, Imran also warned that if violence was used against them, it would generate a reaction. According to party leaders, plans have also been formulated to tackle any situation which emerges in the wake of use of violence against them including mobilisation of wings that shall offer support and protection to protestors staging sit-ins. As many as 10 central Punjab district heads met with their chief on Saturday with similar visits for other regions of the province scheduled for this month. Party leaders, including Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Chaudhry Sarwar, Ejaz Chaudhry and Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed will also be visiting different districts after October 20 to rally supporters for Islamabad.
During his visit Imran also addressed Insaf Professional Forum and held meetings with the party’s urban and rural Lahore leadership in which he lauded party cadres for their performance in Raiwind while gearing them for the Islamabad protest. Party workers were also asked to ‘come prepared’ for Islamabad with Shah Mehmood Qureshi hinting at the possibility of an ‘extended stay’ while addressing workers.
As workers chanted ‘Ghazi Ya Shaheed’, a high-spirited Imran responded by saying that the call was just. Khan said this time the party would come prepared unlike their sit-in during 2014 in the capital. Addressing workers, Khan warned the government against trying to stop PTI in Islamabad saying that peaceful protest was their democratic right. “It is up to you. If you try to be a dictator, it will be your loss’ he warned PM Sharif.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2016.