Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) announced its million march towards Islamabad for August 14, calling it the Azadi or freedom march whereas Shiekh-ul-Islam, ‘Allama’ Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Minhaj-ul-Quran (MUQ) cum Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) is yet to announce a date for its Inqilab or revolution march.
While PML-N ministers and supporters are arguing that the marches are unconstitutional, one wonders whether the same would apply to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s long-marches, including one in the recent past against the Zardari government on the issue of restoring the judiciary. If they were constitutional, then how can these marches be termed unconstitutional just because they’re against PML-N?
Settling that question, let us examine the two marches. Qadri’s march has a precedent from the dying days of Zardari’s rule, when thousands of women, children and elderly were kept waiting in the cold while Qadri was leading from the comforts of what some termed as a “five-star” container. It ended in a non-conclusive and long-forgotten agreement with “Yazeedi” government amidst chants of “Mubarak Ho, Mubarak Ho” meaning congratulations by Qadri. Word within sensitive circles has been that a gift from Zardari government amounting to tens of millions of rupees was awarded to Qadri for “services” to the country via Minhaj ul Quran. It is not surprising then that during the early hours of Thursday, August 7, while blockade of Model Town was underway, the ex-interior minister of PPP Rehman Malik tweeted whether this was a consented action providing face-saving to Qadri. It may not be so but history has left serious doubts about the intentions, capabilities and persistence of Tahirul-Qadri. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons that despite PML-N’s unprecedented blunder of the infamous model town massacre, PAT has not been able to garner the kind of support PTI would have in a similar situation.
Whether PTI and PAT will overcome their differences and eventually forge a united front is something time will tell but for now PTI has played its cards quite well.
Contrary to Dr Qadri’s controversial image, PTI’s chairman Imran Khan enjoys a formidable reputation of being honest, upright and steadfast. There is a section within PTI as well as some allies including Shiekh Rashid who argue that an alliance should be forged to direct united force towards the incumbent government of PML-N for the sake of achieving political goals. This, however ignores the questionable repute of Tahirul-Qadri, often criticised for hypocrisy in his statements on religious issues, saying one thing when in Pakistan and another when in Canada. A lot of the educated group which forms the core support base of PTI has a very negative view of Qadri and any such alliance would definitely benefit him at the cost of PTI.
Whether PTI and PAT will overcome their differences and eventually forge a united front is something time will tell but for now PTI has played its cards quite well. It has been successful in mounting pressure on PML-N, has united party workers for a common cause, garnered public support and made its position of “stolen mandate” regarding 2013 elections widely accepted. The government has now approached PTI, showing willingness to not only open four constituencies but reform the electoral process too should PTI call-off its Azadi march. All of this seems pretty impressive for a party reeling from a huge psychological setback just about a year ago. The problem, however, is that PML-N has made and not kept similar promises before. Hence not many in PTI and certainly not Imran Khan are too willing to take the bait this time.
What these strictures are actually doing is not only motivating the workers of PTI and PAT but also exposing how the government is fast losing its moral authority.
Meanwhile, PTI workers are being rounded up in huge numbers while those harassed number even more. As if that wasn’t sufficient, thousands of motorcycles including those belonging to ordinary citizens were locked up following an announcement by PTI that 100,000 bicycles will form the vanguard of its march. Add to that PML-N’s plan of closing down fuel supplies close to the march and you have a very scared and immature reaction at hand. As if that’s not enough Islamabad and Model Town Lahore (having both the secretariats of PTI and PAT) are besieged with containers, some of them sand filled.
What these strictures are actually doing is not only motivating the workers of PTI and PAT but also exposing how the government is fast losing its moral authority. Arrest of workers and blockades may actually serve to fuel the fire of rebellious passions of the aggrieved masses already reeling with rising inflation and a stifling power crisis. Even if these measures are successful in preventing the marches, the government will be left weakened. If you remember the underlying just demand of election reforms by PTI, the PML-N’s response in allowing the situation to reach this stage exposes the bewildering state of mind of its decision makers.
Last but not least; my sources have revealed that the establishment will intervene if the situation gets out of hand. Though the preferred option, a technocrat setup is not decided upon as yet. Perhaps PML-N needs to take a democratic pause and let the people exercise their democratic right to protest. Oppressing such sentiments may lead to the very results that the government wants to avoid.