The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rejected the government’s pleas and warnings and announced on Tuesday that it would hold a long march on March 23.
“So far, we have decided to reach Islamabad. The duration of the stay will be decided [by the leadership] after reaching the capital,” PDM spokesman Hafiz Hamdullah said at a news conference after a meeting of the steering committee of the alliance.
The meeting warned the authorities against any attempt to use force to prevent the marchers from entering the federal capital.
Replying to a question about the venue of their protest march, Hamdullah claimed that millions of people from across the country would participate in the march against price hike and turn the twin cities into D-Chowk, the place where the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had staged a 126-day sit-in while in the opposition in 2014.
When a reporter pointed out that every year the army took over most parts of the capital ahead of March 23 military parade and, therefore, there could be a possibility of a confrontation, Hamdullah, who is also a senior member of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), said the government would be responsible for any untoward happening.
“We will come. Stop us Asad Umer, if you can,” he said while referring to a statement by the minister for planning and development that the opposition would receive a bashing if it held a long march.
SHEIKH RASHID: Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed at a news conference asked the PDM leadership to review its decision to march on Islamabad on the Pakistan Day.
The minister suggested to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman to change the date of the planned march.
“Announcing a march on such a date is not in interest of the country as the entire nation along with foreign delegates and overseas Pakistanis come to Islamabad for witnessing the national parade arranged by Pakistan’s armed forces on March 23 every year,” state-run news agency quoted the minister as telling the presser.
Rashid said if the opposition did not change the date, it should not blame the government for not allowing them to hold protest, as Islamabad would be on high alert for the parade with closure of some roads for two to three days in advance for parade rehearsal. He asked Maulana Fazal not to use seminary students to achieve agenda of those “who have already lost popularity among the masses”.
In an apparent reference to the PML-N senior leadership, the interior minister said they had talent in singing and other activities, but had no interest in public sufferings.
Justifying the PDM decision, Hamdullah said it was a national and republic day and being part of the nation, they had every right to raise voice against an “imposed and a selected government”.
“March 23 is a national day. Parade will be held. When it is a national day, then are we separate from the nation? It is a republic day. Millions of people will come [to Islamabad] for democracy,” he declared.
Hamdullah regretted that there was no democracy, no parliament and no politics in the country. He also said the PDM was making decisions while acting as one political party.
The JUI-F leader said the steering committee had also decided to hold seminars and conventions on the issue of price hike in all the four provincial capitals and Islamabad and the dates would be announced later. He said the main event would be held in Islamabad where representatives of lawyers, labours, farmers, students, civil society, doctors, businessmen and people from all walks of life would be invited.
The decision to hold the protest march on March 23 was announced by PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Monday after presiding over a meeting of the heads of PDM member-parties in Islamabad. Despite repeated questions by reporters, he refused to tell if the protest march would be a one-day event or it could go on for an indefinite period.
The Maulana said the option of resigning from the assemblies en masse had also been discussed, but its timing would be announced later.
Another ‘big decision’ taken by the PDM leaders in their much-anticipated meeting was about holding seminars on the issue of price hike, growing poverty and unemployment.