ISLAMABAD: The opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) that has set March 26 as the date for starting its anti-government long march is yet to finalise the modalities of the protest, including its duration, as its member parties remain preoccupied with the preparations for the upcoming Senate elections.
The PDM steering committee that had been assigned the task to finalise a strategy for the long march met thrice in Islamabad last week, but the participants consumed most of the time in discussing the plan for the March 3 polls, according to sources.
The sources said the PDM member parties had already agreed to hold a sit-in after reaching the capital, but their differences over the modalities and duration of the sit-in were yet to be resolved, as one of the two major opposition parties was not convinced to convert the long march into an ‘indefinite’ sit-in.
Talking to Dawn here on Saturday, the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) secretary general Farhatullah Khan Babar, who is also a member of the PDM steering committee, confirmed that all their previous meetings remained focused on the Senate elections since the PDM’s parties had announced that they would jointly contest the polls.
“The discussion on the long march issue will now be held after the Senate election,” declared Mr Babar while taking credit for the PPP in convincing other opposition parties to take part in the Senate election instead of boycotting it.
“Our [PPP’s] narrative proved true. Had we left the field open for them [the government], then Imran Khan would have taken the advantage by telling the people that look the thieves have run away,” the PPP stalwart said, claiming that the PDM’s announcement to jointly contest the Senate election had already caused much “political damage” to Mr Khan.
“I think, there is a deeper realisation (among the opposition parties) that it was a good decision,” he added.
Mr Babar even hinted that they might change the date of the long march. He said they had announced that the long march would start on March 26, but the final date and its modalities were yet to be decided.
In response to a question, the PPP leader disclosed that in the last meeting of the PDM heads earlier this month, they had decided that the opposition parties would stage a sit-in “which will continue for more than a day” but it had not been decided as to how long it would continue.
He said not only the PDM, but all the component parties were to finalise their respective strategies for the long march and sit-in.
“In how many days, we will reach Islamabad after starting long march from different parts of the country? From where the main leaders will start the march? Where will they culminate in Islamabad? How long they will stage the sit-in? We are yet to find replies to all these questions,” he admitted.
Mr Babar said if PPP workers from Larkana, Sukkur and other parts of Sindh arrived in Islamabad, then arrangements would have to be made for them and the party leadership would also be required to be present with their workers.
When contacted, information secretary of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Marriyum Aurangzeb said the steering committee might form some sub-committees to finalise the long march plan, which would be presented before the PDM leadership after its approval by the steering committee.
On February 4, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief and PDM convener Maulana Fazlur Rehman after presiding over a meeting of the heads of the member parties in Islamabad had announced that they would jointly contest the Senate election and “start” their anti-government long march to Islamabad on March 26.
Briefing reporters after more than six-hour-long meeting of the PDM party heads, the Maulana had stated that the decision to hold a march on Islamabad had been taken. “Caravans from all over the country will leave for Islamabad on March 26,” said the PDM convener while refusing to divulge details of the plan.
The sources said the JUI-F and the PML-N were of the opinion that the opposition lawmakers should submit their resignations during the long march. The two parties, they said, had suggested to the PPP that they could even consider the option of resigning only from the National Assembly if the PPP was not ready to sacrifice its provincial government in Sindh.
During the meeting, the sources said, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif suggested that before launching the long march, they should also consider the option of giving a call for shutter-down and wheel-jam strike in the country.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2021