Marching in May

Published May 24, 2022

MORE unrest. That is the forecast for the weeks ahead as the PTI formally proceeds with its planned march on Islamabad.

Just what it ends up accomplishing is anybody’s guess. Simply laying siege to the capital till the government folds up is unlikely to force the desired results — especially not anytime soon. The government will have time on its side, while the PTI will need to find a way to endure days — potentially weeks — of a sweltering early summer without the support of its old financiers or behind-the-scenes benefactors, the latter of whom have been told to ‘stay neutral’ by Imran Khan himself.

The party and its supporters should expect a rigorous test of their endurance as well as their commitment to their leader’s narrative of ‘true independence’.

Some of the government’s allies, like the JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PPP secretary general Nayyer Bokhari, do not feel that there is anything to worry about. They believe the long march is bound to fail because Mr Khan cannot muster the required public support, thanks to his economic policies and governance failures over the past three-odd years.

However, the PML-N senior command does not share that view. Its leaders’ strong reaction to the announcement of PTI’s long march indicates that they are in no mood to let any provocation go unchallenged.

The minister of interior, for one, has made it clear he is more than willing to use force.

Read: Crackdown belies govt claims of tolerance to PTI march

He recently stated that he wishes to throw Mr Khan in jail, “to wipe the politics out of him”. He has also threatened to not let protesters leave their homes, much less march on Islamabad, if that is what his government decides.

Such responses, however, will only hurt the PML-N’s democratic credentials.

The PTI is well within its rights to call for a long march and to demonstrate peacefully for however long it wishes to once it reaches Islamabad. The government would be wise to avoid needless confrontation with the PTI and its supporters wherever possible.

At the same time, Mr Khan should take responsibility for ensuring that his party’s activities do not devolve into rioting or the destruction of public property. No measure of discontent with the status quo gives his party or supporters licence to step outside the lines drawn by the laws of this country.

The last time he laid siege to D-Chowk, protesters from his camp had attacked the PTV headquarters and attempted to storm parliament, inviting a violent showdown with police.

The atmosphere this time, too, is quite charged, thanks to the combative rhetoric adopted by Mr Khan in recent jalsas.

As a responsible politician, he will be expected to maintain control of the crowd, ensure that life in the capital is not disturbed, and that no citizen, including his own supporters, is put in harm’s way.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2022

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