ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan held two back-to-back meetings at his Banigala residence on Saturday amid reports that the party’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter felt resentful over the apparent lack of participation in the Nov 2 ‘lockdown’ by party members from Punjab.
Mr Khan first met central PTI leaders to review their strategy regarding the Panamagate proceedings in the Supreme Court.
The second meeting was held with KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak and his provincial cabinet ministers, in which the party decided that it would seek legal recourse against the federal and Punjab governments for using force against protesters from KP who were trying to enter Islamabad.
Discussions with several PTI leaders and members revealed that there was simmering resentment among party members from the KP chapter who felt that the party had failed to mobilise its members in Punjab and instead had relied on the KP chapter to carry the protest forward. They believed that was the reason behind Mr Khan’s decision to call off the protest at the eleventh hour.
Use of force against protesters criticised
The official line, however, is that Mr Khan called off the protest fearing bloodshed.
Several party office-bearers and workers from KP were upset over Mr Khan’s decision to house top leaders from the Punjab at his Banigala residence while they were facing an onslaught by the Punjab police at the border between the two provinces.
“The KP leadership believes that the show would have been more powerful had the people of the largest province participated with full force,” a PTI MNA from KP said.
The MNA, who agreed to talk to Dawn on condition of anonymity, said he believed that Mr Khan had taken notice of the lacklustre response, which was evident from his body language at the Nov 2 ‘thanksgiving rally’.
“At least people from adjacent northern Punjab should have come out to divert the government’s attention,” he said, adding that this had, perhaps, led the party chief to cancel the plan.
Reports suggest that a serious intra-party rift in the PTI’s Rawalpindi chapter was the main reason behind their workers’ lack of participation.
When contacted, PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi dismissed the impression that there was a lack of participation from Punjab. The provincial government had launched a massive crackdown against PTI workers several days before the protest day and had sent thousands of PTI workers to prison, he said. The government had also blocked major highways with containers, he said.
When asked why Jahangir Tareen and he had not led the protests from Multan and Lodhran, Mr Qureshi said the largest number of arrests in south Punjab had been from his constituency. Several people at the union council level had also been picked up, he said.
Mr Qureshi said he had organised a workers’ convention in Multan, which Mr Khan had also attended, to mobilise people for the protest. He said the task of leading the protests to Islamabad had been assigned to the party’s MPAs and his son, “which they did”.
He explained that Mr Khan had asked him and Mr Tareen to move to Banigala so that they could hold consultations according to the situation developing at that time.
Mr Qureshi said that their presence in Islamabad was necessary to make decisions, evolve strategy and issue directives after getting feedback and reports from all over the country. Therefore, he said, they had decided to make Banigala the “nerve centre” of the movement.
He said after examining the situation at the Burhan Interchange and after holding consultations with party leaders, they had decided to stop the people from KP from advancing on Islamabad. “Mr Khan then called the KP chief minister at 6am... we wanted to avoid bloodshed.”
A party spokesperson also denied the claim that Mr Khan had expressed displeasure over lack of participation by party workers in the Punjab at any party meeting.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2016