THE flurry of political activity focused on the JUI-F’s planned march continued on Wednesday. While there are no definitive answers, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, after a meeting with the PML-N, did say he would consider the opposition’s request to delay his advance on the capital. The latest meeting comes a day after an earlier session between the PML-N and PPP where it was decided that the two parties would meet the JUI-F chief — separately — to try and convince him to postpone the march. That in itself is an indicator of how far apart the two main opposition parties are on the issue; a joint approach could have reflected some progress on an agreement. But so far, the only thing that unites them is their desire to see Prime Minister Imran Khan pack up and go. The PPP and PML-N do not have a roadmap to accomplish this huge task. In fact, they have not unveiled any scheme to achieve even a smaller target than the overthrow of the PTI setup. For instance, they have displayed little interest in tackling the government head-on over many of the unpopular measures that have contributed to the current price hike.

For his part, Maulana Fazlur Rehman insists he has a map, not dissimilar to the one used by Prime Minister Imran Khan to come to power, even if the present challenger lacks the kind of patrons who allegedly sponsored the Khan journey. The JUI-F chief has implied that the protest will have the desired effect of unsettling the Khan government. He appears to be relying on a ‘tip-off’ by commentators who say that there is a public sentiment against the government that an opposition movement of sufficient proportions could ignite. But even if the PPP and PML-N are able to provide the numbers to back up the campaign, the leadership of the two parties has shown itself to be incapable of rising above their own interests and readily throwing their weight behind the maulana.

The opposition is generally tentative about the campaign. The voices of caution emanating from the opposition camp have been joined by observers who say that the situation is not conducive to a protest march against a government which only recently completed its first year in office. While this may be a valid argument, the opposition, that is often advised to protest and debate in parliament in the interest of democracy, is right in pointing out the scant respect that the prime minister and PTI politicians have shown towards the legislature. What option does it leave the opposition with, if not street protest? The onus is then on the government to demonstrate that it respects healthy opinion and is ready to listen to and address the opposition’s grievances. It will have only itself to blame if the opposition proceeds jointly outside the elected houses.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2019

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