Former premier Imran Khan has been leading the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s rally at Lahore’s monumental Minar-e-Pakistan ground despite the interim Punjab government’s “threat alert” that terrorists might target political events in the provincial capital.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan has arrived at the venue and will address the crowd, but from a bulletproof container, which has been placed at the jalsa ground to ensure his security, Geo news reported.
The provincial government alerted that the 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician, who was ousted as the prime minister in April last year and is embroiled in 143 cases, could be targeted by terrorists.
The government in its alert announced the terrorists carrying explosive material had reached Lahore and will either target political rallies or law enforcers deployed for the security of those events.
As the party prepared to hold the gathering, the government placed containers on the way leading to Minar-e-Pakistan, creating hurdles for people seeking to partake in the rally.
Caretaker Punjab Information Minister Amir Mir, however, said people were not being restricted from going to the rally because of the barriers, but the law enforcement agencies were ensuring citizens’ protection through these measures.
The minister also said the workers of any political party were not being prevented from joining the rally and that the government had given permission to PTI to hold the event.
The routes leading to Minar-e-Pakistan from Ravi Bridge and the railway station are closed, while containers have also been placed at the city’s Shah Alam Market.
The police have separately arrested over 50 PTI workers from different areas of Rahim Yar Khan, while 26 workers including PTI leader Javed Akhtar Ansari’s son were arrested in Multan, Geo News reported.
The PTI claimed that many workers have also been detained from Lodhran and Bhakkar.
Calling on workers to walk to the rally if the roads were blocked, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the administration had cluttered the city with barricades to undermine the party’s scheduled public rally, which was suggestive of panic in the government camp.
“How can they call themselves democratic? Are the workers of PML-N arrested?” Mr Qureshi said talking to the media hours ahead of the rally.
“Despite all the obstacles, people will come,” Mr Qureshi said while strictly advising workers not to take the law into their hands.
“The police and the administration are requested to remove the containers,” Mr Qureshi passionately appealed to the authorities, adding that the obstacles were proof that PTI’s power show was proving to be a success even before starting.
He claimed the police had arrested around 1,500 to 1,800 PTI workers since the announcement of the rally.
He also issued an advisory on the political workers’ code of conduct by telling them not to carry sticks or stones to the rally but come armed with passion.
“There’s no weapon greater than passion,” Mr Qureshi said.
The PTI leader said they were taking legal action against the postponement of elections from April to October this year.
“Given the sensitivity of the situation, the Chief Justice of Pakistan is requested to hear the plea on the causal list.” The PTI chairman, taking to Twitter, called on his supporters in Lahore to attend the rally after Taraweeh prayers which he believes will “break all records”.
The deposed prime minister said that he will give his vision of “Haqeeqi Azadi” and how to pull the country out of the mess the “cabal of crooks have put our country in”.
The alert – issued by the CCPO Lahore’s intelligence branch — said “credible information” was received that foreign intelligence agencies contacted Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) commander Mukarram Khurasani to “cause instability in the country by whatever means”.
The threat alert further predicted that the JuA commander “could have specifically assigned” Imran Khan as the top target, and other targets included people gathered at the PTI chairman’s residence at Zaman Park, PTI’s gathering at Minar-e-Pakistan on Saturday, and also rallies carried out by the PTI “as they would appear to be a softer target”, Dawn newspaper reported.
Imran Khan had on March 13 announced a rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan – the same venue where he launched his campaign for the 2013 elections with a massive show of power.
He originally scheduled the rally for March 19 but the Lahore High Court had directed the PTI to reschedule its rally and have a dialogue with the administration.
Subsequently, the LHC had on March 22 disposed of a petition of the PTI seeking permission to hold a public rally at the venue after the party and the city administration reached an agreement.
The PTI chief kicked off his election campaign from Lahore at the end of the second week of March following wrangling with the interim government of Punjab over a ban imposed by local administration on public gatherings.
Earlier in the day, the Lahore ATC granted Khan interim bail till April 4 in three cases filed at the Lahore Race Course police station – two of which were on March 14 and March 15 – relating to the clashes that took place between PTI supporters and the police outside the PTI chief’s Zaman Park residence.
Imran Khan has been in the dock for buying gifts, including an expensive Graff wristwatch, which he had received as the premier at a discounted price from the state depository called Toshakhana, and selling them for profit.
Imran Khan was ousted from power in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote, becoming the first Pakistani prime minister to be voted out by the National Assembly.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)