- Both sides should avoid confrontation
The Azadi March was the largest protest march in the country’s history that traversed over 1000 kilometres from Karachi to Islamabad. As it progressed, it was joined by marchers from Balochistan, KP and AJK. On his way to Islamabad, JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressed the crowds that had gathered to greet the march in major cities. While the marchers were highly charged, they remained completely peaceful throughout the long route.
The March had the endorsement of all major opposition parties, who agreed on two points: the PTI government had been catapulted into power by offstage actors rather than being genuinely elected, and therefore it must go. There were however differences also. The PPP did not support the sit-in as a tactic to remove the government. Despite Nawaz Sharif’s full support for the march the PML-N’s paltry participation led to the conclusion that the party was either unwilling or unable to collect its supporters. Its announcement to postpone the rally in Islamabad till Friday was also confusing and met with a snub from the JUI-F chief. Similarly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s decision to keep his plan secret betrayed a lack of confidence in allies.
In their speeches, PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif and PPP Co-chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari referred to the offstage players’ role in politics, the first complaining that had the PML-N got 10 percent of the support provided by the Army to Prime Minister Imran Khan, its government would have resolved most of the economic issues. Mr Bhutto Zardari critcised the Army deployment during the elections. The Maulana wanted the Army not to be seen as being supportive of a party. With the PM claiming every other day that his actions had full support of the Army, the comments were not unexpected,
Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has put up an impressive show of force. Instead of dividing the opposition by using the religious card and getting involved in premature confrontations, he should bring greater unity in the ranks of the opposition and move step by step. Demanding fresh elections is by no means undemocratic, but there is a need first to improve the election laws and change the practices that create doubts about the genuineness of the exercise. No movement can be successful unless all major opposition parties are united on how to conduct it.