Gujranwala rally and the way forward
The first public meeting organized by the 11-party opposition alliance PDM at Gujranwala’s Jinnah Stadium, despite the convening of the National Assembly and Senate sessions by the government to divide the conglomerate’s attention, will remain a subject of discussions for long. The opposition parties, the ruling coalition and people belonging to various walks of life would now analyze the impact and outcome of the gathering and the likely turn the situation may take in times ahead.
The turnout was quite impressive, although the ministers and others affiliated with the government have no other option but to call it a flop show, a folly all those in power commit in such situations because of the wrong information provided to them.
Realistically speaking a successful show at Gujranwala is no news because the district, in fact, the entire division, is a stronghold of the PML-N and all efforts had been made by the organisers to bring maximum people to make the maiden gathering of the opposition alliance a great success. Secondly, it was the first time that young leaders like Maryam and Bilawal were together and curious people wanted to hear from them their future plans for the country after the ‘ouster’ of the PTI-led coalition even before December – as claimed by various PDM leaders.
But what about the content of the speeches and the opposition’s future course of action?
Ostensibly, the speakers did not repeat the anti-establishment line set by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in his Sept 20 speech through video link from London and then repeated in his speech to the audience at the Gujranwala auditorium, only a few kilometres from Gakkar Mandi, the native town of COAS Gen Bajwa. That speech was no less than a declaration of war against the establishment that he alleged was responsible for bringing an ‘incapable and incompetent’ Imran Khan to power as a result of the manipulated 2018 elections.
That speech had united the opposition parties on the PDM’s platform. The formation of this alliance logically means that all its constituents are adding their voice to that of the three-time prime minister, who could not complete any of his mandated terms for one reason or the other.
An alliance of about a dozen parties who have nothing in common except NAB cases against many of their leaders should be a matter of great concern for the army, which cannot perform its professional duties without unstinted support from the nation.
However, speeches made at the public meeting were focused on other problems like crippling price-hike, unaffordable energy bills, widespread unemployment and unfulfilled government promises about the construction of new houses and the creation of new jobs.
It is a welcome sign if the opposition parties have – deliberately – decided to target only Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government, softening their stand against the establishment. A confrontation with the establishment, a euphemism for the army, is not in the national interest and will take the attackers nowhere.
A review of policy will be welcomed by everyone. This happens in politics.
For example, there was a time when even the PML-N and PPP were arch-rivals. Mian Nawaz Sharif used to call Benazir Bhutto a security risk and the PPP a party that deserved to be thrown into the ocean.
Shehbaz Sharif used to say that he would drag Asif Zardari on roads because of the corruption committed by him and would retrieve the public money devoured by him.
The PPP, on the other hand, was among the parties in the then opposition alliance – Pakistan Awami Ittehad- set up against the government of Nawaz Sharif. PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri had headed the alliance for one year.
It may also be called a coincidence that Benazir Bhutto had addressed a public meeting at Gujranwala’s Sheranwala Gate in 1998, with “Go, Nawaz go” as the main slogan.
The size of the Gujranawla public meeting becomes more important because of the NAB’s campaign of allegations against the Sharif family. Only a day before the Gujranwala public meeting, Advisor on Accountability Shehzad Akbar levelled serious corruption charges against the Sharif family.
He alleged that Rs15 billion had been deposited in fake accounts of 12 lower grade employees of the Sharif Group from 2008 to 2018, and Rs7 billion were deposited in six fake companies’ accounts. He gave details of the alleged misdoings.
But in Gujranwala public meeting no PDM leader responded to these allegations, although it was the best opportunity to negate them.
People will draw their own conclusions from this meaningful omission. Some may even infer that Sharifs are not in a position to refute the allegations against them.
Now preparations have been started about other public meetings to be held under the auspices of the PDM. It will be in the interest of the opposition leaders to come up with proofs of their innocence. Such a move will add to their public following.
As for the outcome of the Gujranwala public meeting, one thing very positive has been reported by a section of the press. While addressing people on his way to Gujranwala from Lalamusa, Bilawal hinted at the possibility of a national government in times ahead.
There is no denying the fact that in the prevailing circumstances such a government alone may steer the country out of the multiple problems facing it.