- In over 100-minute speech at Parade Ground, premier says Pakistan will always pursue independent foreign policy, highlights achievements of PTI govt
- Remarks come during address to thousands of PTI supporters who assembled to show their support to the party chairman
Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that ongoing efforts to pressure his political party, and topple the government are being funded by foreign powers who are looking to influence the country's foreign policy.
The premier's remarks came during his address at Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) “historic gathering” at Parade Ground in Islamabad on Sunday as thousands of party workers assembled in the federal capital from all over the country to show support to the leader by holding a “million-man” rally ahead of the no-confidence vote.
"When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto tried to pursue an independent foreign policy, other political parties ran a campaign against him and created an atmosphere that resembles the one today," said Khan towards the end of his speech.
"Foreign powers have always been interfering in Pakistan’s politics. I want to inform these powers that be that this is not 1971 — the time has changed.
"Some of our people are being used without knowing the complete truth, while others are fully involved in this conspiracy."
His speech follows that of other PTI leaders who took turns to speak to the crowd gathered at the rally.
“Pakistan was formed based on the idea of an Islamic welfare state,” the premier had said earlier as he began his address.
“People ask me why I talk about religion in my speeches. They ask me why I use religion for politics. When I made my party 25 years ago, I came to politics so that we can establish an Islamic welfare state.”
Khan, who has been under pressure due to the opposition’s no-confidence motion, also said there is an external hand in this whole situation.
“I want to firstly thank you all for coming here. People have come to Islamabad from all parts of Pakistan on my call.”
Khan said that his government has made efforts to uplift people out of poverty, claiming that no other government in the past has invested so much to uplift the poor segments.
“We decreased the price of petrol and diesel despite increases in the international market. We reduced electricity tariff because our tax collection increased.
“I promise you — as we keep increasing our tax collection, we will keep reinvesting it in the people.
"Poor countries are not poor because they don't have resources. They are poor because their system cannot hold the rich accountable. Their systems give them NRO.
"All this drama is to see if I give them (the opposition leaders) a NRO. I will never give them the NRO.
Talking about his team's performance, Khan said: "I was criticised for not imposing a complete lockdown during the Covid-19 crisis. The entire world acknowledged that the steps Pakistan took were commendable because they saved our economy.
"Pakistan's textile industry is growing. They cannot find labor anymore because of the growth. We have given a new package to small and medium industries. This growth will lead to more tax collection, which I will spend on the people.
"The government invested record money in its agriculture sector. As a result, the country produced bumper crops in wheat, rice, sugar, and potato."
He said that the PTI government’s reforms have also created new jobs in garments, textile, and construction industries that have led to an economic boom.
The PM added that those who have ruled in the past 30 years did nothing to solve Pakistan's most basic problems, like the scarcity of water, which is becoming a major crisis especially in urban areas.
Speaking of his party's achievements, he said the PTI government started nine new small and large dams, some of which will be completed by 2025, and will help store enough water for cheap electricity, agriculture, and daily use. He also said the Diamer-Bhasha Dam will be completed in 2028, and will double the country's water level.
PM Imran said he was willing to have an open dialogue with economic experts to compare the steps taken by his government and those in the past for the advancement of the country.
"My team led negotiations for three years to revive the Reko Diq project. I want to congratulate you that the same company is again investing billions of dollars in Pakistan in the same project."
As his speech ended, the PM took to Twitter to thank the participants.
The premier has been under pressure by the opposition that says the government has mismanaged the economy and foreign policy, posing the most serious challenge to his leadership since coming to power in 2018.
As pressure mounted, Khan called on his party workers to show their support in the rally in Islamabad. Local police officials put the number of participants at up to 20,000.
There was a heavy security presence in the capital, with opposition parties also planning rallies in the city next week.
While addressing the rally, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the people have expressed confidence on Imran Khan’s leadership.
"Opposition says it will take back the no-confidence motion if he gives us a NRO," he said.
"I am the foreign minister of the country. I know secrets, but I am bound by the oath. I cannot humiliate Pakistan.
"If I make them (secrets) public, the opposition will be humiliated and won’t be able to show their faces.
"But I want to tell the nation that I have informed PM Imran who is making these plans to remove him. I will not elaborate more. This is your (Imran Khan) information to keep. Its up to you (Imran Khan) how much you want to tell the nation," said Qureshi.
Advised PM to call early elections: Asad Umar
Addressing the crowd, Minister for Planning Asad Umar said PM Imran Khan has told the world that "we are ready to become partners for peace but Pakistan will never compromise on its sovereignty".
He added that he has advised the premier to call early elections. "Early elections will convey to the opposition with whom the people stand."
Defence Minister Pervez Khattak was the first party leader to address the crowd. He told PTI supporters that their “brave leader” was not going anywhere, urging them to stand with the premier.
"You will see ... the opposition will cry after four days," he said, adding that the National Assembly members who "abandoned" PTI never originally belonged to the party. "You will see ... they will regret it."
In an audio message released on Twitter earlier, PM Imran termed March 27 a day of the “battle for Pakistan”.
In the message, PM Imran had said: “We have not taken to the streets to save PTI, we are out to fight the battle for Pakistan.”
He urged people to leave for the venue at the earliest to avoid traffic gridlocks, adding that PTI will make history.
Social media platforms have been abuzz in anticipation of PM Imran's rally with the ruling party's supporters sharing videos and pictures of their journey towards Islamabad.
Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood led the rally from Lahore.
Provincial Minister Iqbal Wazir led a convoy of hundreds of vehicles from North Waziristan to Islamabad.
A PTI Sindh caravan, led by Opposition Leader in the Sindh Assembly Haleem Adil Sheikh, had reached Islamabad on March 26.
Earlier, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid warned the opposition parties against creating unrest in Islamabad.
While reiterating complete security to the opposition rally, he categorically said that no one would be allowed to stage sit-in in the federal capital.
The minister said that 15,000 personnel of Rangers, Frontier Constabulary (FC), and police were deputed to maintain law and order in the capital.
He said that Srinagar Highway has been handed over to the Rangers and FC personnel and it was good omen that Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-F) has shifted its stage to H-9 Bazar from the highway.
Rashid said that permission was given to JUI-F for today's rally only, adding that no application is yet submitted for the party's rally planned for tomorrow.
The minister said that PML-N has sought permission to hold a rally at the Srinagar Highway but was not allowed as the Apex Court and High Court have already directed the Interior Ministry and local administration to keep all main thoroughfare including Srinagar Highway opened. The courts’ directions would be strictly followed, he added.
He said that complete security would be provided to the rallies but no one would be allowed to block the roads or enter the Red Zone.