PTI’s long march

Editorial Board
Monday, May 23, 2022

The PTI has finally announced its long march to Islamabad, with Imran Khan asking his party supporters to congregate on Srinagar Highway in Islamabad at 3pm on Wednesday, May 25. The message is the same: there’s been a foreign conspiracy through which he was replaced by corrupt politicians due to his independent foreign policy. The goal is: the assemblies to be dissolved and the government to give a date for early – and transparent – elections. There is no end-date for the ‘march’ which could mean it may well transform into a dharna. The question is whether the PTI can pull off Dharna 2022 with the same enthusiasm as Dharna 2014. With a searing summer, a very obvious lack of support from past ‘ATMs’, and a supposed lack of institutional help, this could be a test both of the PTI’s street power as well as whether long marches and sit-ins can indeed lead to government ouster. Ironically, for someone who has consistently been lamenting recent institutional ‘neutrality’, Imran has now openly asked the army to remain neutral.

The PTI has also warned that any attempts to disturb its peaceful protest will not be allowed. This is likely a reply to Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s comments that the coalition partners will decide whether Khan’s long march should be allowed to reach Islamabad or not. Any form of protest is a democratic right – be it Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s march during the PTI government or this long march by the PTI. It is in that spirit that the government should refrain from stopping the march, and Rana Sanaullah would be wise to not give in to the temptation of using strong-arm tactics to stop PTI workers and leaders from reaching Islamabad. Already, the political polarization has reached a high and with Imran warning his supporters that the government could turn the internet off, stop petrol supply, it is quite possible that any government-PTI clashes could turn violent. The government should let Imran Khan and his supporters come to Islamabad. Any unfortunate incident that takes place as a result of an overzealous response by the government will not only fuel the PTI’s allegations but will also refute the PDM-PPP’s statements of democracy and right to speech and association.

There had been rumours that the current coalition would succumb to pressure by Khan before he announced the date for his long march – but so far that has not happened. However, there are signs that all is not on the ‘same page’ within the coalition government parties. Last week, Asif Ali Zardari had a meeting with PM Shehbaz Sharif. Reports indicate that the future of the government was discussed. While Zardari and Shehbaz seem to be in the camp that says the government should complete its tenure, there is reportedly another camp in the PML-N that would prefer early elections. The idea is that at this moment the PML-N is in a position to get a simple majority in Punjab if elections are held early but this could change if elections are held after the budget is announced. The government may just be waiting till May 25 when our talks with the IMF are to conclude – to get a better sense of which way the economy is headed. Either way, the next two days will hopefully make it clear whether Pakistan goes to the polls this November or not.