Azadi March: PML-N not to support violent protest

Published November 5, 2019
Party agrees to continue to extend "moral and democratic" support to JUI-F. — AP/File
Party agrees to continue to extend "moral and democratic" support to JUI-F. — AP/File

LAHORE: The PML-N leadership on Monday decided not to support Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s ‘Azadi March’ if it turned violent.

The PML-N stalwarts held a detailed discussion on the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam’s (JUI-F) Islamabad sit-in and reached a consensus that it would continue its 'moral and democratic' support to the protest but if it turned violent (in coming days) it would ‘immediately’ distance itself from it.

The meeting was presided over by PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif in the Model Town Secretariat which was also attended by secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, information secretary Marriyum Auranzeb, Senator Pervaiz Rashid, Khuram Dastgir, Muhammad Zubair, Amir Muqam, Barjees Tahir, Pervaiz Malik, Javed Latif and Awais Leghari.

“In the meeting we have decided in principle to continue our support to the peaceful march (of JUI-F) but we will not approve of the violent protest,” Ahsan Iqbal said when asked whether PML-N would participate in the JUI-F’s ‘sit-in’ or not.

He said the PML-N moot decided to support the ‘Azadi Marchi’ and its demands politically and democratically. “Next phase (of protest) will be decided in consultation with the opposition parties,” he added. The meeting’s suggestions will be placed before the Rahbhar Committee to make a joint decision/strategy,” Mr Iqbal said, adding Shahbaz Sharif couldn’t attend the multi-party conference convened by the Maulana in Islamabad on Monday because he had to preside over this meeting in Lahore.

The former interior minister said the PML-N would try that all opposition parties ‘move together.’ “Every one in the meeting was of the view that all demands (of the Maulana) — resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan and holding of mid-term elections — should be extended full democratic support and the future decisions be made in consultation of all opposition parties,” he said.

Ahsan Iqbal drew a stark comparison between Imran Khan’s 2104’s sit-in and the Maulana’s 2019’s. “Imran Khan in his party’s Islamabad sit-in in 2014 had incited the people to burn their utility bills, asked expatriates and bureaucracy to stop sending money through banks and disobey the government’s orders, respectively. Khan even had threatened the civil servants of hanging (if any action was taken against the PTI protesters) and also used foul language. On the other hand, none of this is found in the Maulana’s march,” he reminded the premier.

Unlike the PPP, the PML-N was not categorical with regard to its participation in the Maulana’s ‘big’ show in Islamabad. The PPP had made it clear that it would only extend moral support to the JUI-F protest and its Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addressed the participants twice along with Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Although PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif had declared that his party would fully participate in the Maulana’s march but practically it was otherwise. When the Maulana’s caravan entered Wednesday last the PML-N’s ‘thin’ participation disappointed the JUI-F chief.

A PML-N insider said a couple of senior leaders in the meeting suggested that the party should stand by the Maulana come what may. “This is the right time that the PML-N should put its full weight behind the Maulana to pressure the PTI government to achieve its (opposition) goals. We should not let Imran Khan off the hook. Retreating from this point means strengthening the PTI government,” a participant suggested.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2019

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