Tens of thousands of supporters of Pakistan’s ruling party gathered in the capital, Islamabad, on Sunday to show their support ahead of a no-confidence vote against embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Waving national and tricolor party flags, supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from across the country gathered near parliament to show solidarity with their leader, who is facing the most difficult time of his three-and-a-half-year term.
According to independent observers, 50,000 to 60,000 people attended the rally, many of them women activists, in what the party called the “largest rally ever” in Islamabad.
PTI leaders put the figure at more than 200,000.
The government has not allowed private TV stations to bring their cameras and equipment for live streaming, citing “security threats”. Only Pakistani Public Television (PTV) broadcast the footage live.
The charged attendees stood and chanted as Khan, dressed in a white Shalwar Kameez (long shirt and baggy trousers) and black waistcoat, appeared on the big stage.
The national anthem and other songs were played ahead of Khan’s opening speech amid the din of drumbeats and anti-opposition slogans.
Speakers including the prime minister himself took aim at three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Jamiat leader Ulema -e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman, accusing them of “following a foreign agenda” to dislodge Khan.
Without naming any country, Khan claimed an “international conspiracy” was hatching to unseat his government simply because of “my independent foreign policy”.
“Efforts are being made to change the government in Pakistan through foreign funding and with the help of internal elements,” he continued, reading a letter given to him by a party leader in the last minutes of his conference of more than an hour. speech.
“We have been threatened in writing. But I want to tell you that the times have changed. We will not compromise on our national interests.
“I have this letter, which is the proof of this threat. But I am not showing it in the national interest. If anyone doubts this letter, I am ready to show it to them, but in a confidential way”, he said, waving the piece of paper, which he said was a letter from a foreign power.
“We will disclose further details of this foreign conspiracy very soon in due course,” he said, accusing Nawaz Sharif, who is currently in London, of being part of the alleged international conspiracy.
“I’m not afraid (to divulge the details of this plot), but I’m not doing it just for the benefit of my country,” he added.
Calling his political opponents “corrupt rats”, an emotional Khan said they were trying to blackmail the government and “no matter what, I will not forgive them even if my government leaves”.
He accused the opposition of offering “bribes” to lawmakers to overthrow his government.
Listing his economic achievements, Khan said he saved Pakistan from a $1.2 billion fine imposed by the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in favor of the Turkish electricity rental company Karkey with the help of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2019.
– Things are moving towards new elections
Khan, who faces a tough vote of no confidence from the Allied opposition, has been out in public for more than two weeks, holding rallies and meetings across the country.
The cricketer-turned-prime minister conceded a setback minutes before the rally when one of his ministers and leader of an allied party, Shahzain Bugti, resigned from government and announced he would support the government’s no-confidence motion. ‘opposition.
At least 13 dissenting lawmakers have already announced their support for the no-confidence decision.
Some political observers see the ruling party’s rallies as a future election campaign as things, they say, point to new elections.
Others say the show of force is for the “establishment,” a term for the country’s mighty military, which is currently “neutral.”
PTI leaders, however, argue that “today’s massive show of force” will force dissidents to change their minds.
The opposition, meanwhile, has also embarked on a “long march” on the capital and plans to hold a counter-rally on Monday.
Thousands of opposition supporters have already gathered at the Kashmir highway and Faizabad crossroads, the gateway to the capital, blocking the two sites to traffic.
The Interior Ministry has deployed more than 15,000 paramilitary soldiers and police to prevent any clashes between the rival militants.
Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leads a march in the northeastern province of Punjab to join the opposition rally in Islamabad.
Opposition parties tabled the no-confidence motion earlier this month, saying Khan had lost his parliamentary majority.
The defection of dissident lawmakers and suggestions that coalition partners might join the opposition would have left Khan short of the minimum 172 seats needed for a simple majority in parliament.
But the allies – the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-I-Azam), the Balochistan Awami Party and the Muttahida Quami Movement remain undecided whether to support or oppose the no confidence motion.
The government has also filed a court petition to determine whether the dissenting votes against the prime minister can be declared invalid.
Under the law, defecting parliamentarians could lose their seats if they choose to vote against their party.
Khan claims to have a ‘surprise’ for the opposition and said he will emerge victorious.
The vote on the no-confidence motion is scheduled for this week.