The city of Peshawar was on high alert on Sunday as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) — an alliance of 11 opposition parties — prepared to hold a rally at Ring Road amid security threats and the risk of the spread of coronavirus.
Opposition leaders, including PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz, reached the venue on Sunday afternoon after having lunch at Bilour House.
Meanwhile, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government issued an advisory, warning about the “threat of terrorism” during the opposition’s rally. The chief minister’s adviser on information, Kamran Bangash, said police had prepared a security plan and informed the PDM organisers, workers and leaders to beef up their own security arrangements as well.
In a statement, Bangash said police and law enforcement agencies were ready to deal with any “unfortunate event”.
Peshawar Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Operations Mansoor Aman said that 4,500 security officials have been deputed for security. A control room has also been established to monitor the rally and an anti-riot force was ready in case of an emergency.
Traffic police have chalked out a traffic plan for the rally and banned the entry of all heavy traffic to the city.
Though the district administration had rejected the PDM’s request for permission for holding the rally, citing a spike in Covid-19 cases, the opposition alliance decided to go ahead with the showdown.
Workers of political parties put up a stage with the help of shipping containers.
Organisers said central PDM leaders, including Maulana Fazl, Maryam, Bilawal, Ameer Haider Hoti, Mahmood Khan Achackzai and Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, would address the rally.
A member of the organising committee said the opposition parties had arranged face masks and hand sanitisers for participants, while the district administration would also distribute face masks.
He said adherence to SOPs would be ensured in the rally to the maximum.
‘PDM deliberately endangering lives’
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan lashed out at the PDM for “deliberately endangering lives [and] livelihoods” by going ahead with their rallies despite a rise in the number of coronavirus cases.
In a series of tweets, the premier said that several major cities had seen a drastic increase in the number of virus patients on ventilators.
“Increase in Covid patients on ventilators in last 15 days: Peshawar 200 per cent, Multan 200pc, Karachi 148pc, Lahore 114pc, Islamabad 65pc. Multan & Is(lamabad) Covid ventilators capacity utilisation 70pc.”
He said that countries around the world were enforcing “complete lockdowns” amid a second spike in infections, warning that the PDM was “deliberately endangering lives and livelihoods” because the government in Pakistan too would have to impose a “complete lockdown” if cases continued to rise at the current rate.
“Opposition is callously destroying people’s lives and livelihoods in their desperation to get an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance). Let me make it clear: they can hold a million jalsas (rallies) but will not get any NRO,” he added.
The premier said he did not want to impose a lockdown which would hurt the economy, which he said was showing signs of “robust recovery”.
“Unfortunately, the Opposition’s only goal is NRO at whatever cost to the lives of people [and] the country’s economy.”