Haqiqi March on Islamabad: who will have the last laugh?

In May, PTI Chairman and deposed premier Imran Khan expected that roughly two million people would march towards the capital and hold a sit-in at D-Chowk in Islamabad until the date for the dissolution of assemblies and new general elections was announced.

The PTI chairman had even given a six-day ultimatum to the PML-N led government to declare snap polls, a demand which was simply laughed off even before the march was called off for another date.

Following his “sputtered long march” in May, the PTI chairman is once again gearing up for another protest in the coming days and even threatened interior minister on Thursday of dire consequences as he was the one who had cracked down on the PTI workers and supporters the last time and enabled the coalition government to have the last laugh over the much-hyped PTI long march.

Though Imran announced that his party’s movement for “Haqiqi Azadi” – real freedom – has entered the final phase and would finally begin from September 24, ambiguity still surrounds the nature of the protest, its objectives, the role of the powerful quarters and how successful would it be amid floods and extreme polarisation on the political scene.

Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said that the PTI chairman might not be able to bring the government to its knees even though he has “a major advantage” of having a government in Punjab too after Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The PILDAT president said that the PTI chairman might pull a large crowd but the powerful quarters would also ensure that life was not completely disrupted in the capital.

“Imran Khan may not be able to compel the government to hold early elections because there are some practical difficulties in holding them early such as floods in about one-third of Pakistan and time required for new population census agreed in Council of Common Interests under PM Imran Khan’s chairmanship,” Mehboob said.

Mehboob said that Imran doesn’t have any additional advantage now over what he had on May 25 except that he has his party’s government in Punjab too. “He may be able to pull a large crowd but I doubt if courts and armed forces will let him disrupt life in Islamabad,” he said.

Eminent scholar Dr Hassan Askari said the PTI chairman had so far spoken in general sense and had not even given specifics whether the PTI would go for a rally, long march or sit-in. “Right now, we don’t even know what kind of a protest would it be,” the professor emeritus said.

“Imran won’t immediately go for something like the May 25 march,” Dr Askari said, conjecturing that initially the PTI chief would direct his party to simultaneously take out rallies in their respective cities so that the ground situation could be assessed.

“It is not yet clear what kind of protest call would it be,” Professor Askari said. “Imran is keeping his options open. He is trying to read the situation and I think the march towards Islamabad would be delayed and held at a later stage.”

He said the final call could take some time and it would depend on different factors like farmers’ protest, inflation, and growing economic pressure on people among other things. Unlike May 25 when the PTI only had government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Professor Askari said that the PTI had government in Punjab too and it would give an advantage too but the question is “what is that Imran ultimately wants to achieve” as no clear objective has so far been shared about his protest call.

He said, “The government is least bothered about its reputation right now and will not hesitate in using all available options to resist the PTI’s moves.”

Members of the ruling coalition said that the demand of holding early elections at a time when half of the country was under water; houses, crops and animals were gone, and winter was coming was unusual and showed Imran’s “greed” for power.

However, Imran’s party is adamant that it’s the right thing to do and it has answers for all the concerns being raised and questions being asked.

Since his ouster, Imran and his party leadership had been demanding snap polls, arguing that the incumbent rulers lacked legitimacy; a notion that several parties in the ruling alliance held against Imran before they came to power after ousting him through a vote of no confidence.

Though Imran is building up pressure on the government and holding rallies in different cities to gear up for his final call for protest, members of the ruling coalition questioned why Imran and his party leaders suddenly stopped threatening that they would resign en mass from Punjab and K-P assemblies where they were in power to force the government to go for snap polls.

They answered that the PTI’s decision of resigning en masse from the National Assembly had not yielded the desired results, adding that the decision to contest elections on the same seats had also been questioned at different levels.

They claimed that the PTI’s whole struggle was pegged on snap polls and prevented the government from appointing a new army chief, saying that both the notions had been forcefully rebutted.

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