ISLAMABAD: PTI chairman Imran Khan addresses the long march.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: PTI chairman Imran Khan addresses the long march.—White Star

• Gives govt six days to dissolve assemblies, announce polls
• MNA claims this was the plan all along, admits party had provisions for days-long sit-in

ISLAMABAD: As workers and supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) anxiously waited for their leader, Imran Khan, at D-Chowk to hold a planned sit-in on Thursday morning, the party chairman cut short his long march at Jinnah Avenue after addressing the people who came along with him from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The move triggered rumours of some behind-the-scenes ‘intervention’, which may have compelled Mr Khan to abandon the plan to reach the sit-in destination announced by him just hours earlier while he was marching towards Islamabad on a container.

Islamabad MNA Ali Nawaz Awan claimed that it was part of their strategy to disperse after reaching Islamabad, maintaining the PTI had achieved its goal of pushing the government to a point where it would be left with no option but to announce early elections. He claimed the government would soon be sent packing and polls would be announced.

However, he also admitted that the party had made preparations, including ensuring ample food supply, tandoors to prepare rotis, as well as water tankers, camps and even portable toilets, he explained.

Earlier, speaking to party workers at Jinnah Avenue, Imran Khan early on Thursday morning admitted he wanted to hold a sit-in, but gave a six-day ultimatum to the PML-N-led government to dissolve the assemblies and announce a date for early general elections. He warned that if these demands were not met he would hold another march on Islamabad. He blamed the government for creating unrest in the country and killing two party workers, adding that overall, five PTI workers lost their lives and thousands were arrested and injured.

Mr Khan said he had reached the capital from KP in 30 hours. He lauded his party workers for reaching Islamabad despite teargas shelling and hurdles created in their way. He then announced he was not going to hold a sit-in, and drove off to Banigala.

“The government was claiming we cannot bring even 20 people to the city, but we gathered tens of thousands in Islamabad. There are two ways to pressurise the government: hold a sit-in and show we can protest anytime. We chose the second option,” Mr Awan, the MNA from Islamabad, maintained.

When asked why Mr Khan did not go to D-Chowk, which was just a few kilometres from the spot where he chose to stop his procession, the MNA said that due to the number of vehicles in their convoy, it took five hours just to travel from G-11 to Khyber Plaza (six kilometres).

“It may have taken two more hours to reach D-Chowk, so it was decided to speak at Jinnah Avenue,” he claimed.

Replying to a question why workers remained at D-Chowk and were unaware that Mr Khan had already left for Banigala, he said the message could not be conveyed to a few workers as some of them reached a bit late.

When asked if the decision to hold a sit-in was dropped after getting a phone call from certain quarters, Mr Awan said the previous PTI government would not have been toppled if it followed orders coming through phone calls.

Not a repeat of 2014

In contrast to the party’s 126-day sit-in, held in 2014, PTI workers on the ground were not sure about the venue of their sit-in this time. An obvious communication gap was evident between the party leadership and workers, as before leaving for his residence, Mr Khan delivered a speech at Jinnah Avenue, just a few kilometres from D-Chowk where a large number of workers were waiting for him to hold a sit-in.

D-Chowk has assumed significance in the country’s political history as it has remained the chosen destination for most protest marches and rallies over the last three decades.

Zubair Khan, a PTI supporter who had travelled to the capital from Swabi and was present at D-Chowk, told Dawn he was waiting for Mr Khan, who had directed his workers to reach the location.

“I have heard Imran Khan has gone back from Jinnah Avenue. But I am sure he will return soon,” he said optimistically.

Similar sentiments were echoed by other party workers who had reached D-Chowk and were not ready to leave till noon.

The PTI chairman had shared a video statement from atop his container on Wednesday wherein he announced that the Supreme Court had ordered removal of all hurdles and allowing their Azadi March. He directed the workers to reach D-Chowk where he claimed he will reach in a few hours.

However, unlike 2014, the situation on Wednesday was a bit uncertain for even Imran Khan. Back then, he had constantly sought approvals from then-interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and kept moving ahead with his long march, along with Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, until he finally reached D-Chowk where the two parties continued their sit-in for over 120 days.

This time, after the Supreme Court ordered removal of hurdles in the way of the protest march and not to arrest any worker/leader of the PTI, all the roads were cleared of blockades and law enforcement agencies allowed free movement to the marchers in the city -- apart from the Red Zone that houses important installations such as the Supreme Court, Parliament House, PM House, the Presidency, Election Commission of Pakistan. It should have been a smooth sailing for Mr Khan, but for some reason, he chose against converging at D-Chowk.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2022

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