Imran Khan is back on the roads. Once again, his target is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, this time in the name of accountability. But before you start to experience a sense of déjà vu, consider this: unlike his marathon sit-in outside Parliament House, this time he actually wanted to take other opposition parties along, even inviting them to join his “accountability movement”.

But to his dismay, none of the parties part of the combined opposition alliance that was pushing for investigations into the Panama Papers will be joining him for the march on Raiwind.

Even the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), part of the ruling coalition in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, has decided to stay away from today’s show of strength near the prime minister’s residence.

For the record, JI claims it wants to concentrate its energies on its own rally, scheduled to be held on the same day in Faisalabad. The Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), PTI’s old dharna-fellow, maintains that since it wasn’t formally invited to join the march, it will keep a distance.

The PPP leadership has similar reservations, while the PML-Q has opposed the idea of marching on the Sharif family residence.

But in background discussions with office-bearers and party insiders, it has emerged that some o these parties were willing to join Mr Khan’s march, but only in exchange for concrete guarantees.

Dr Tahirul Qadri’s PAT, for example, wants to forge a more long-term political partnership instead of a dharna-to-dharna collaboration. In the words of a senior PTI office bearer, their accountability movement is exclusively an anti-corruption campaign, designed to hold the rulers accountable for their alleged money-laundering.

At this stage, the PTI leader argued, the party couldn’t commit to something it may find difficult to honour in the days to come. Sources from both sides confirmed that while Dr Qadri was for a sustainable, joint anti-government movement followed by more cooperation in the run up to the next general elections, the PTI leadership was unwilling to go for any such agreement.

The JI also sent out more or less similar vibes. Rather, if a close aide to Imran Khan is to be believed, the JI asked for a firm commitment towards a future electoral alliance in return for its support for the Raiwind march.

The JI is of the view that since it can provide battle-hardened protesters – the party is known for its street power and discipline – the trade-off should be of something worthwhile. But the PTI leadership believes it is the only potent force that can challenge the ruling PML-N inside Punjab and doesn’t want to compromise its position by making future electoral offers.

PPP leaders, on the other hand, believe their’s is too important a political party at the national level to become a sidekick to Mr Khan, even though most of its Punjab leadership wants all-out aggression against the ruling family. As a result, the party is busy with its own set of Panama Papers-specific protests.

However, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah has publicly stated that since the PTI unilaterally announced the Raiwind march, his party wasn’t actively participating in it, even though it fully supported the purpose of the march.

But PTI leaders are not too worried about the opposition parties’ decision to stay away from the Raiwind march. For one serving PTI lawmaker, the fact that Mr Khan was the only opposition politician giving the ruling party a tough time had now been established. Secondly, he said, it no secret that all electoral battles inside Punjab would be fought between the ruling PML-N and the up-and-coming PTI.

When asked to explain, senior PTI MNA Dr Arif Alvi offered a different explanation. “I think this was all down to a misunderstanding. The PTI was of the view that outside Parliament House, opposition parties were free to follow their own course of action on the Panama Papers, whereas, opposition parties expected more coordinated efforts from us, as we had done inside parliament,” he observed.

Dr Alvi wasn’t too perturbed by the opposition’s reluctance to participate, saying that the fact they were all on the same page on the Panamagate issue was a good omen.

Extending an olive branch, the soft-spoken Karachi MNA said that once they were done with the Raiwind march, the PTI would have no problems sitting down with likeminded opposition parties to fine tune their future strategy, both inside and outside the parliament.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2016

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