PDM adamant to hold Peshawar rally despite threat of COVID-19, legal action

Government representatives and members of the Opposition trade barbs throughout Saturday; doctors say hospitals filling up fast

Web Desk

The Opposition's Pakistan Democratic Movement, despite the persistent threat of COVID-19 as well as the promise of legal action by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, has resolved to hold a rally in Peshawar on Sunday, as it continues in its campaign seeking to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan.

With the shadow of uncertainty looming large over whether or not the rally will be successfully held, government representatives as well as members of the Opposition traded barbs throughout Saturday, each holding the other responsible for Pakistan's state of affairs.

Doctors, too, had their share of concerns, keeping in view rapidly rising cases that they said are filling up the hospitals.

What the govt is saying

'Reckless politics' — PM Imran Khan

Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed the opposition leaders of "playing reckless politics with people's safety".

"The same PDM members who wanted a strict lockdown and criticised me earlier are now playing reckless politics with people's safety," the premier tweeted early Saturday.

"They are even defying court orders and holding a jalsa when [coronavirus] cases are rising dramatically," he added.

'Two-faced' — Asad Umar

The premier's response came to Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar's tweet, in which he sounded the alarm on an rise in Peshawar's coronavirus positivity ratio to 13.39%.

Umar said that the PML-N government in Azad Jammu and Kashmir had declared a complete lockdown for two weeks, while the PPP government had imposed a smart lockdown in four districts of Karachi. "But both parties are adamant on holding a rally in Peshawar. No better example than this of being two-faced," he said.

The minister also highlighted how Peshawar "is Imran Khan's city". "In 2013, PTI won all four seats in Peshawar and all five seats in 2018. InshaAllah, the result will be the same in the next election."

"The Opposition will gain nothing; it will only put the people's lives in danger as well as their livelihoods. Perhaps they want to exact revenge on the people of Peshawar," Umar added.

'No legal justification to hold rally after court orders' — Shibli Faraz

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz said that there is "no legal or moral justification" to hold rallies after the court's orders and the government's directives not to.

"The Opposition is hell bent on demonstrating how irresponsible it is. Their stubbornness to hold a rally is a reflection of their anti-democratic thinking," said Faraz.

He said the greatest act of selfishness was to play with people's health and lives for personal gain.

The information minister warned that a first fnformation report (FIR) will be filed with the police against the opposition leaders and rally organisers if cases rise in KP.

'No joke to play with people's lives' — Fawad Chaudhry

Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said the Opposition's behaviour is "dangerous".

"It is no joke to be playing with people's lives. The Tehreek-i-Labbaik left no stone unturned in turning Lahore into a ticking corona time bomb and now from Multan to Peshawar PPP and the Noon League will unleash havoc," the minister said.

'Height of hypocrisy' — Ali Haider Zaidi

Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi said the decision by PDM to hold rallies is the "height of hypocrisy and irresponsibility" at a time when COVID-19 cases are on the rise throughout the country.

"Earlier, these clowns wanted to shut down everything but now taking a Trumpian view by ignoring ground realities!" he said.

'Little value of lives of ordinary Pakistanis' — Shireen Mazari

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said the Opposition places "little value on the lives of ordinary Pakistanis".

She said that it is "sad" the way the PDM is "playing dangerous politics" and insisting it will hold rallies in the face of a spike in coronavirus cases.

"Clearly holding jalsas in a desperate attempt to protect their corruption through pressuring for a NRO is far more important than preventing exposure of people to the deadly COVID 19," Mazari said.

'Pharaoh-like attitude' — Shahbaz Gill

The premier's aide on political communication Shahbaz Gill shared an image of the invitation card to Bakhtawar's engagement, in which he highlighted the line which says all guests are required to bring a scanned copy of a negative result of a coronavirus test conducted 24 hours prior to the event.

"For Bakhtawar's engagement, one needs a mandatory COVID-19 test report or they will not be allowed to enter Bilawal House," he wrote. "Why do you not care about the lives of the ordinary people you call to your jalsas?"

"Your lives seem to be very dear to you. This is the Pharaoh-like attitude, the cruel thinking under which you consider the people beneath you," he said.

'Time for jalsas will come again' — Taimur Saleem Jhagra

KP Minister for Health Taimur Saleem Jhagra warned that the number of infections can triple in the second wave. "COVID-19 cases are increasing. The positivity rate has crossed 12%. KP has recorded the highest single-day tallies in the past few days. "

Jhagra said the government was not opposed to the opposition's jalsa but keeping in view the spike in coronavirus case the public should decide whether the political gathering should take place or not. "Times are tough. There will come a time for jalsas again."

'Opposition responsible if cases rise' — Kamran Bangash

Special Assistant to KP CM on Information Kamran Bangash said the government was reviewing the security situation as well. He warned the Opposition leaders and party workers may be at health risk due to coronavirus if they go ahead with the public gathering in Peshawar.

Bangash said the opposition leaders were insistent on holding a rally in Peshawar because the city was PTI's strong-hold. "This is unfair to the masses. Recently, Peshawar High Court (PHC) chief justice Waqar Seth passed away due to COVID-19," he said. "If the cases rise, we will hold opposition responsible and take action against them."

What the Opposition is saying

'Govt itself a big corona(virus)' — Fazl-ur-Rehman

PDM chief Fazl-ur-Rehman vowed the Opposition will not back down and accused the government of using the coronavirus as a tactic to create hurdles for the Opposition.

"This illegitimate government itself is a big corona," he said, in a press conference in Peshawar, adding: "They found no other excuse, so started raising a hue and cry about the spread of coronavirus."

"While we talk about COVID-19, we should also shed light upon COVID-18," he added.

Fazl-ur-Rehman not only vowed to go ahead with the rally in Peshawar, but promised a flurry of rallies in the days ahead.

"A historic rally will take place tomorrow in Peshawar," he vowed, adding that the next rally will be held on November 26 in Larkana which his party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl), will host.

Fazl-ur-Rehman said that the Opposition will not allow the government to rest at any juncture in the movement. He said another rally will take place on November 30 in Multan.

'What about PTI's rallies in Gilgit Baltistan?' — Azma Bukhari

PML-N spokesperson in Punjab Azma Bukhari asked how the government thinks the PDM rallies will cause the spread of coronavirus when PTI's ministers such as Ali Amin Gandapur held rallies in Gilgit Baltistan "day and night".

Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Khan Gandapur addressing a public gathering during the election campaign for GBA-3 where a re-election will take place due to the death of Syed Jaffar shah. — APP photo by Ashraf Hussain

"Pakistan already has the biggest virus in the form of [Imran Khan's government] right now," she said, adding: "If this (virus) continues to exist, we will all surely die."

She said this "virus" in the past two-and-a-half years has "eaten away at the flour, wheat and sugar in the country".

'Coronavirus poses 2%, govt 100% risk' — Rana Sanaullah

PML-N stalwart Rana Sanaullah, while speaking to the media, said that if the "government coronavirus is left unchecked, we will all starve".

He said that while the coronavirus poses a 2% threat, the "government coronavirus" carries a risk of 100%. "We must decide which coronavirus is to be risked."

The Opposition is not ready for any negotiation with the government, he said.

There will be a rally in Multan on November 30 and in Lahore on December 13, he added, calling the government’s “propaganda” a failure.

Sanaullah went on to add that the dates are being put forth as information. "We are not seeking permission to hold these rallies."

'Will coronavirus only spread through rallies?' — Musaddiq Malik

PML-N leader Musaddiq Malik in a conversation with Geo News asked whether the coronavirus can only spread through rallies.

"Tehreek-e-Labbaik was allowed to hold a funeral," he said.

"We have to protest as well as be careful," Malik said, adding: "The rally will observe social distancing as well as the use of a mask."

What the doctors are saying

In a conversation with anchor Shahzad Iqbal on Geo News programme "Naya Pakistan" members of the Pakistan Medical Association warned that while it is important to exercise the right of peaceful demonstration, it is important to protect one's health.

'Technology can be harnessed to present one's stance' — Dr Javed Akram

University of Health Sciences Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Akram said that people did not take the threat of coronavirus seriously and now precautions will have to be taken for the next two to three years.

He said that the politicians "can ask their own doctors" if they don't believe it.

Akram said that to present one's stance the use of technology can be harnessed.

"If a power show is avoided for the protection of human lives, a good impression will be made," he reasoned.

'Govt, Opposition must both be careful' — Dr Saad Niaz

Dr Saad Niaz. a gastroenterologist at the Dow University of Health Sciences, said that the number of patients in hospitals is rising rapidly.

"Our hospitals have limited capacity and resources," he said, adding: "The people must be made aware that they will have to be very careful in view of these scare resources."

"Caution is necessary. The government, as well as the Opposition, must both be careful."