Rallies reach ‘ground zero’

* March parties likely to present their demands during public meetings today

ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) “Azadi March” and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) “ Inqilab March” which is spearheaded by its chief, Tahirul Qadri entered the federal capital one after the other late on Friday night amidst contradictory claims about the actual strength of the respective rallies. 
But much before the rallies had actually entered the capital city, the ruling PML-N government had started contacts with allies and coalition parties as well intermediaries like Jamaat-e-Islami and MQM leadership, conveying its willingness to start dialogue with PTI and PAT as soon as possible. The JI chief was quick to ask the government to announce a team for negotiations. The government high-ups were, however, waiting for the final PTI and PAT demands to unveil on Saturday.
Both the march parties, however, announced they would present their charters of demands during public meetings sometime on Saturday followed by a long sit-in at the respective venues on Kashmir Highway and Zero Point, Islamabad. The PTI and PAT rallies had reached Islamabad covering around 300 kilometres on the famous Grand Trunk Road (GT Road), passing populous cities of Gujranwala, Gujrat, Jhelum in a tiresome 35-36 hours long journey that began from the capital city of Punjab, power base of ruling PML-N, Lahore.  
Scattered rain showers welcomed both the rallies as they entered Islamabad, and the same situation was witnessed all the way on GT Road especially, Friday evening. Since the government strategists felt that it would be very difficult for the urban crown of PTI to brave the difficult conditions of monsoon rains coupled with those on the venue in absence of proper shelters, drinking water, food and sanitation conditions, PTI chief Imran Khan told media his workers and supporters were all geared up to face difficult weather and living conditions, and have come prepared for a long haul. 
Earlier in the day, the situation took an ugly turn when PTI rally and Imran’s container itself came under attack by PML-N workers in Gujranwala, in which some people were injured. Police sprung into action very late as usual prompting the PTI to call it a connivance between the police and government. PTI chief Imran Khan termed it a pre-planned attack, claiming he was himself attacked three times during the day. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif later on ordered arrest of the alleged mastermind and brother of local PML-N MPA, Pomi Butt, and around 10 of his companions. 
But all of them gave themselves up at the local police station. Punjab chief minister also asked the PML-N to lock down its offices along GT Road. Qadri’s caravan faced no such situation as it peacefully treaded on the GT Road. Both the opposition parties, meanwhile, claimed to have amassed a few hundred thousand people in the capital, who came riding buses, wagons, trucks and motorbikes. The government side, however, played down the attendance claims, saying both the rallies have a few thousand people. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid immediately demanded resignation of Imran Khan for failing to amass a reasonable crowd in Islamabad, much less than PTI’s claim to amassing a million persons. 
Meanwhile, through various television interviews and tweets Imran Khan vowed to stay in the capital till fulfilment of his demands. PAT chief Tahirul Qadri made it clear he would present his demands to the government once he reached Islamabad. Both the leaders had earlier welcomed struggle of each other and consensus on one point – resignation of the current prime minister. But both kept a safe distance and separate identity for political reasons. But there was one interesting commonality – both shared the same traditional breakfast of the common host. PTI rally was provided with thousands of food packs by none other than the PML-Q President Ch Shujaat Hussain, and Ch Pervaiz Elahi’s people, as their caravan reached Gujrat on Friday. PML-Q has earlier hosted a similar feast for Qadri and his supporters on GT Road.

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