ISLAMABAD: As the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) prepares to pack up its sit-in in Islamabad, no one is more worried than the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). For nearly two months, the parties had been camped out side-by-side, first on Khayaban-i-Suharwardy and then, after protesters forced their way into the Red Zone, in front of Parliament House.
The die-hard nature of PAT supporters and their almost spiritual commitment to Dr Tahirul Qadri’s cause made them indispensible for both parties.
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But as Dr Qadri prepares to leave Islamabad, PTI leaders are apprehensive. “It is possible that I take my container on the road and hold sit-ins in various cities,” Dr Qadri told his followers on Friday night. “We began the sit-in and we will end it when we want,” he said, insisting that he would not be dictated by anyone.
At the same time, Dr Qadri denied reports that his party had made a deal with the Punjab government and agreed to accept blood money for the victims of the Model Town tragedy in exchange for calling off the sit-in in Islamabad.
Qadri says he may take his container ‘on the road’; PAT supporters’ numbers thinning on Constitution Avenue
“I was very upset the past few days because I could not be with you at the sit-in, and I am sure that you people missed having me here as well,” the PAT chief said.
However, PAT insiders say Dr Qadri believes he has already succeeded in his objectives: to record their protest regarding the flaws in the electoral system and denounce the inordinate delay in securing justice for the victims of the Model Town tragedy.
A PAT leader told Dawn that the primary objective of the PAT leadership was to create awareness among the masses and that Dr Qadri believed he had succeeded in doing so.
“The PAT leadership is cognisant of the hardships faced by sit-in participants over the last two months. With winter fast approaching, the leadership believes that will only make it harder for people to stay. This is why the party has been allowing participants to go home lately,” he said.
He said that Dr Tahirul Qadri wanted to take his movement countrywide and had already announced public gatherings in different cities. It will be easier for PAT supporters from those areas to participate in a one-day public gathering than a prolonged sit-in.
PTI leader Asad Umar told Dawn on Friday that if PAT supporters left the sit-ins and Dr Qadri calls off the sit-in, “it will definitely be a setback for the PTI”.
PTI supporters, he noted, would usually go back home during the day and return at night for the main event – Imran Khan’s speech – later in the evening. Dr Qadri’s followers, however, remained with him and organised everything from food supplies to schools and day-cares, keeping Constitution Avenue buzzing with activity even on the slowest of days.
But the PAT sit-in in Islamabad is definitely winding down. On Constitution Avenue, where once an entire tent-city greeted visitors, there are now only the tattered remains of large awnings and a few tents dot the landscape.
Where once PAT workers were found roaming every nook and cranny of Constitution Avenue, today they are few and far between.
Dr Qadri may think he has achieved his objectives, but PAT supporters Dawn spoke to aren’t convinced. Until a couple of days ago, Hammad Asghar was a volunteer monitoring vehicles passing through the PAT camp.
The 24-year-old from Gujrat had come to Islamabad on Dr Qadri’s call to bring about a revolution, on August 14. He had manned the PAT’s own security checkpoints for the past two months.
“I am a loyal supporter of Dr Qadri and have also read several of his books while studying for my degree Islamic Studies from the University of Sargodha,” he said.
“It was not easy for us to stay here, day and night, in such unhygienic conditions. But having been here for months, how can I leave without the revolution that was promised to us by the PAT chief,” Hammad asked.
“My father called me to celebrate Eid at home, but I preferred to stay here,” he said, adding that it was not easy for him to leave the sit-in without admitting that he had made a mistake by coming here 64 days ago.
Mohammad Imran, a 36-year-old from Chichawatni, has been at the sit-in with his wife and four children for almost two months now.
“I own a small tea shop. It was difficult for me to stay away from the business, so I bought utensils and started selling potato chips, parathas and tea to the marchers here,” he said.
“Although I earned a decent sum every day, I enjoyed my time here and the friendships I’ve formed, even more,” he told Dawn.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2014