Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) protesters
Activists of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an opposition alliance of 11 parties, wave party flags during the first public rally in the eastern city of Gujranwala on October 16, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan’s opposition alliance has vowed to defy the government ban on public gathering amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan this week imposed a ban on all kinds of public rallies to contain the spread of COVID-19 warning that if cases continued to surge with the current pace, the country’s hospitals will soon run out of space.

However, the newly formed 11-party opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), has announced to go ahead with their rally scheduled for November 22 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s capital Peshawar, defying official coronavirus curbs.

Peshawar denies permission

Peshawar city administration has refused to grant permission for the opposition’s rally. “The COVID-19 positivity rate in district Peshawar has presently exceeded 13 per cent, which is alarmingly high and any large public gathering is likely to further increase the spread of life-threatening virus” reads the letter from Peshawar deputy commissioner office, adding that “that permission for the said event has not been granted.”

Reacting to the Peshawar administration’s decision, PML-N Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s spokesperson Ikhtiar Wali, said that the opposition alliance would go ahead with the public meeting and is “ready to face” any action taken against them by the Peshawar city administration. He also questioned the government rallies held in Swat last week despite rise in cases. Pakistan Peoples Party’s central information secretary Dr Nafeesa Shah declared the ban on gatherings “new tactics” by the government to quell voices of opposition leaders.

Reckless politics

Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members on Saturday criticized the opposition alliance for not cancelling the rally despite the resurgence of coronavirus. “The same PDM members who had wanted a strict lockdown and criticized me earlier [are] now playing reckless politics with people’s safety,” PM Imran Khan said. “They are defying court orders and holding a rally when cases are rising dramatically.”

Minister for Planning Asad Umar, who is spearheading the national fight against COVID-19, said that Peshawar’s coronavirus positivity ratio was 13.39 per cent a day ago while there were 202 patients in critical care. “The PML-N government in Azad Jammu and Kashmir has imposed a complete lockdown for two weeks. The PPP government in Sindh has imposed ‘smart lockdowns’ in four districts in Karachi” and yet the two opposition parties are adamant on holding the Peshawar rally.

Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry described the opposition’s attitude as “dangerous”, adding that “Playing with the lives of the people is no joke”. He also voiced serious concerns about the COVID-19 situation in Lahore following the death of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi whose funeral prayers were attended by thousands of people.