Pakistan’s main opposition parties held protest rallies in cities across the country yesterday, accusing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government of ruining the economy and seeking to intimidate and silence its opponents.
The so-called “Black Day” protests, a year after Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party swept to power following the July 25, 2018 election, come amid mounting economic problems for Pakistan and a political climate that has grown increasingly angry.
Surging prices of fuel and everyday staples, a plunging currency that has lost a quarter of its value since the election and allegations of media censorship and stifling opposition voices has fuelled the protests.
Opposition groups ranging from right-wing Islamic parties to secular organisations took to streets in all major cities.
“We don’t accept Khan’s government as legitimate. He was ‘selected’ and imposed on the nation by the military,” Islamic leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman said in a speech he gave in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
A crowd of tens of thousands of activists from Rehman’s and other opposition parties burst into cheers when speakers announced more protests in the near future.
“Every day in the presence of Imran Khan is a black day,” Maryam Nawaz, a vice-president of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) that was ousted from power in last year’s election, told a crowd of thousands of supporters in a football stadium in the western city of Quetta.
She accused Prime Minister Khan of accepting “dictation” from US President Donald Trump during his visit to Washington, and proposed a march on the capital Islamabad but did not name a date.
In Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, thousands of supporters of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan’s other main opposition party, gathered to hear party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the murdered former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Banners reading “PTI brought price hikes, PTI brought joblessness, PTI brought economic terrorism” hung over the main stage.
Khan’s government came to power with Pakistan already nearing a balance of payments crisis, and this month agreed a $6bn bailout with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that came with tough austerity conditions including more taxes and an agreement to let the rupee currency fall sharply.
It has dismissed the opposition protests and blamed the economic turmoil on massive corruption and economic mismanagement by previous governments, accusing their leaders of shifting millions of dollars out of the country illegally.
PML-N founder and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam’s father, is currently serving a seven-year sentence on corruption charges.
His successor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has also been arrested on corruption charges.
The arrests have fed the anger of opposition parties, who say that the government has manipulated the justice system to crush its adversaries.
Earlier this month, PML-N officials produced video evidence that they said showed the judge responsible for sentencing Sharif had been blackmailed into convicting him.
The judge, who said the PML-N had also attempted to blackmail him, has since been sacked from the court that decided the Sharif case.