During a meeting of the party’s core committee held in the capital, Imran Khan painstakingly dispelled an impression that his party was pursuing back-channel talks with the government and that the march may be called off.
He stuck to his stance of ‘no negotiations’ and declared that the August 14 demonstration was the only thing on his mind.
A PTI member who was present at the meeting told Dawn that the meeting, held at Mr Khan’s Bani Gala residence, focused on the preparation for the upcoming march on the capital.
Imran assures party leaders Azadi March will not be called off, holds core committee meeting to allay fears
“As long as I am alive, I am prepared to even walk to Islamabad on August 14, come what may,” Mr Khan was quoted as saying during the meeting. He has consistently referred to this march as a turning point in the history of the country and alleges that he has damning evidence of widespread rigging in the 2013 general elections, which he has promised to share with demonstrators on Independence Day.
Ahead of the meeting, PTI office-bearers, particularly those from other cities, were quite concerned about the party’s own lack of clarity and had been anxiously awaiting details of the plan for the Azadi March.
They were concerned by reports of political manoeuvring that indicated that the party might have struck a deal with the government and the long march was simply going to be an opportunity to announce the party’s gains.
According to a member of the core committee, these concerns were passed on to Mr Khan, who spent a good deal of time during the two-hour meeting explaining to party leaders that they should not heed reports of any mediation between the party and the government and concentrate on the march instead.
A statement released after the meeting carried a similar message, saying: “The core committee sent its workers a clear message — that they must make it to Islamabad at all costs and should come prepared with all essential supplies (such as food and fuel). The core committee resolved that PTI workers and leaders would come to Islamabad even if they had to walk the distance.”
Talking about the demands that the PTI chief was expected to announce in his speech on August 14, another party leader said they had broadly decided that they wanted sweeping electoral reforms, including the reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and a re-election across the country. However, he said, a set of detailed demands would be included in the chairman’s speech, to be finalised later.
In the statement, the party warned the government to be careful in their handling of the Azadi March and reiterated that if anything were to happen the government of the day would be held responsible.
The committee called on the ruling PML-N to remove all roadblocks and containers immediately and reopen petrol stations.
It demanded that the Punjab government immediately implement a Lahore High Court order asking for the release of all impounded motorcycles.
Fearing the possibility that their leader might be arrested, the committee declared that any attempt to take Imran Khan into custody, even if for “his own safekeeping”, would be met with the full strength of party workers and leaders.
To a question, the core committee member told Dawn that the party had a ‘Plan B’ in place as well, in case the government did not allow marchers to enter the capital or tried to keep party leaders from leading the demonstration.
“We hope the government will not stop us from exercising our democratic right because in doing so, it will only create problems for itself. Reaching Islamabad on August 14 is a do-or-die matter for the party now,” the source said.
Separately, the PTI core committee said it would demand compensation from the Sharifs for all those whose livelihood was affected by the roadblocks put in place by the government.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, PTI President Javed Hashmi said the party would not support the imposition of martial law and warned the government against resorting to high-handed tactics.
PTI chief Imran Khan is expected to address a press conference on Monday at his Bani Gala residence. According to the party, he will expose “a grand conspiracy to rig the 2013 general elections in favour of the PML-N”.