The march momentum

Updated October 13, 2019

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THE country is in the middle of a build-up that could encourage and embolden JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. The tension between the government and opposition over the maulana’s threatened march on Islamabad at the end of this month is mounting.

There have been some crucial appearances this week as well as significant words. Many of the latter were voiced by the government’s ministers and advisers, but going by their tone they have actually aided Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

The most important moment in the context of the ‘Azadi March’ came when the leader of the biggest opposition party in the country, the incarcerated Nawaz Sharif, was allowed a window to the media. While at court in connection with a case, he offered his complete support to the initiative. Further, in an expression of regret, he said he should have been more receptive to the JUF-F chief’s call for protest against the alleged rigging immediately after the 2018 election. He termed the march a correct political move — his approval itself was quite a milestone achieved by the maulana.

While there is a difference of opinion within the PML-N that could prevent Mr Sharif’s word from being accepted as readily as his commands were in the past, the signs are that, ultimately, the N-League will proceed in the direction of the former prime minister’s choosing. There may be a few sour notes along the way, such as where the dissenting group will not be visibly too committed to the cause. But supporters of the march, in the PML-N and outside, tend to believe that once the momentum is there, it will be almost impossible for anyone in the opposition camp across the political spectrum to resist the temptation of jumping onto Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s bandwagon.

The same logic is being used to predict a more robust participation by the PPP and other parties in the protest than their leaders are committing to at the moment.

As the opposition increasingly deploys its energies to rally popular support, and the date of the march approaches, the reaction from within the government camp is two-pronged. One, there is growing emphasis by key members of the prime minister’s economic team on the promise of change soon but this is overwhelmed by ruling party reactions which increasingly betray panic. A collective salvo comprising all kinds of denials, counter-allegations, caustic insinuations and some very valid criticism of the maulana’s adventurous itinerary is thrown at the opposition every few minutes — which reconfirms the impact the march has already had on the ruling setup.

The most sensible government response so far — if the reports are true — is where the prime minister is said to have told his aides to keep the option of talks with the maulana open. This is something the government should have tried long ago.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2019