ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari meets Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Thursday.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari meets Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Thursday.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: Ignoring the calls of other opposition parties to delay the proposed long march, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman announced on Thursday that his party had decided to hold the anti-government ‘Azadi March’ to Islamabad on Oct 27.

“Caravans from all over the country will reach Islamabad, stay there and send this government packing,” declared the JUI-F chief while briefing reporters about the decisions made by his party’s central executive committee (CEC), which met soon after his meeting with a Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) delegation, led by its chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

The announcement was made by Maulana Fazl only a day after his meeting with a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz delegation, which had formally requested him to delay the long march to enable the party to mobilise its workers.

The JUI-F chief evaded questions regarding participation of the PPP and the PML-N in the march, and simply replied that all opposition parties were together on the issue. “We know who will join us, where and at what time,” he said in a meaningful tone.

In reply to another question, the Maulana said neither anyone had asked them to change the date of long march nor would they do it.

PPP won’t back ‘indefinite’ dharna; PML-N stresses consensus-based decisions

Multiple plans, ‘alternative’ strategy

“We respect [state] institutions and [army] generals. We do not want confrontation with institutions... We will come to Islamabad in a peaceful manner and remain peaceful,” he said in response to a question.

The JUI-F chief said “we have prepared a comprehensive strategy and various plans”, in case the government launched a crackdown on the party to prevent it from holding the long march. “We have plan-1, plan-2 and plan-3 ready [to meet any eventuality],” he said, adding they had even prepared an “alternative strategy” if “I am or other party leaders are arrested”.

Asked whether the sit-in would be held for an indefinite period, the Maulana said: “This is not the time to answer this question. However, I can tell you we are not coming [to Islamabad] with an intention to go back in haste”.

To another query, the JUI-F chief said they would stage the dharna at the famous D-Chowk of Islamabad, the place where the now ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had staged a sit-in for 126 days in 2014.

He said they had chosen the date of Oct 27 for the long march to express solidarity with the Kashmiris, who would be observing black day on that day in protest against Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.

“When Kashmiris all over the world will be observing black day, we will express solidarity with them and with the expression of solidarity with the Kashmiris through protest demonstrations, we will launch Azadi March to Islamabad,” the Maulana said while highlighting the significance of the day.

Alleging that the rulers had “sold off” Kashmir, he said the government had become a “risk” for the country and its “atomic capabilities.”

He also lashed out at Prime Minister Imran Khan for what he called “using the religion to counter the JUI-F and other religious parties”. On the one hand, he said, “the PTI accuses us of using children from seminaries for political purposes and on the other Imran Khan himself was addressing seminary students and meeting Ulema”.

“I fear one day Imran Khan may grow beard and start teaching at seminaries,” the Maulana said in a lighter vein.

PPP, PML-N dilemma

The leaders of the PPP and the PML-N, talking to Dawn after the JUI-F chief’s announcement, said their parties would prepare their strategy after discussing the matter in their central executive committees.

PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said her party would hold an emergency meeting. The PML-N “unambiguously supports” Maulana Fazl’s stance and “shares its concerns and fears” over the threats posed by the PTI government to the country, she said.

“The party [PML-N] agrees with the opinion that removal of this imposed regime is the only remedy to all economic, social and strategic crises. It, however, believes in a consensus-based, unified and collective approach and decision making,” Ms Aurangzeb said.

A meeting of the PML-N leaders with the PPP too had endorsed a joint approach, she said.

“All opposition parties are unanimous in their stance regarding the threats posed to the country by Imran Khan and his regime and the immediate need to rescue the country from their choke-hold,” she said.

Ms Aurangzeb said PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif had apprised the party’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif during a meeting at Kot Lakhpat jail about the consultations and discussions held in the party’s central executive committee meeting on Sept 30 and about his (Shahbaz’s) recent meetings with PPP and JUI-F leaders.

“Whatever decision is made by Nawaz Sharif... will be formally announced by PML-N president Shahbaz,” she said.

When the PML-N had publicly stated that it had been requesting the JUI-F to delay its long march, the PPP claims that it has never made any such request.

PPP secretary general Nayyar Bokhari said the party chairman had already announced political and moral support to the JUI-F’s planned long march. “The mode of participation in the march would be finalised in the party’s CEC meeting which would be convened soon.”

Replying to a question, Mr Bokhari said the PPP supported the idea of launching an “agitation” against the government and would definitely participate in it, but the party chairman had a clear stance that they “would not support an indefinite sit-in”.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Bhutto-Zardari, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar in a statement “welcomed” the announcement of the schedule of the long march.

“It was agreed upon in principle between both leaders (Bilawal and Fazl) that the PTI government’s failure in addressing core issues confronting the nation has left the opposition with no choice but to take to streets,” said Mr Khokhar.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2019


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