Political temperatures flared on Wednesday as PTI Chairman Imran Khan continued to build momentum for a second iteration of his "Haqeeqi Azadi March" to Islamabad as Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb questioned the intent behind it.
A day ago, the former prime minister had assigned PTI lawmakers — past and present — the task of bringing thousands of people each to the march towards Islamabad which, in his words, could be announced at any time.
The previous march, which took place on May 25, fizzled out just as Imran reached the heavily fortified Red Zone. He later said it was ended to "avert bloodshed". The PML-N later taunted the PTI for failing to bring two million supporters, and PTI Shafqat Mahmood reportedly resigned as the party's Punjab head for failing to mobilise the masses.
Sources told Dawn, however, that this time former MNAs have been tasked with bringing at least 4,000; MPAs are expected to bring along 2,000 supporters, while village and neighbourhood council chiefs are being asked to bring 100 persons each along with them for the march on the federal capital.
Talking to the media outside the Supreme Court today, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said the only solution to the country's woes was the march, claiming that "2-2.5 million people" would "target Islamabad".
"They (the government) won't find room to escape," Chaudhry warned, calling on the government to "reflect on its affairs, otherwise, it will be too late."
Yesterday, the PTI chief had also taken oaths from party lawmakers, office-bearers, and members to support the "real freedom" march despite all odds. “We will consider the party’s movement for real independence as a jihad, and will render all kinds of sacrifices for the cause … we will uphold the constitution and will protect it,” they repeated after former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor Shah Farman who read out the oath in Imran's presence.
But when videos and pictures from the ceremony were shared on social media, many saw similarities between the participants’ raised hands and the infamous salute, preferred by the forces of Nazi Germany. The 30-second raised hand salute was led by Imran and also imitated by Ali Amin Gandapur and others on the stage. PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, however, merely held up his right hand as if swearing an oath in court.
Addressing the development in tweets today, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb lashed out at Imran as a "foreign agent and constitutional violator", asking what he was coming to Islamabad for.
"How long will they continue to play this hideous and serious game with the national interests? Instead of helping the flood victims, [the PTI is] preparing for a long march?"
The information minister levelled several allegations against the PTI chief in her tweet, ending them all with the same question of what he was coming to do in the capital.
Aurangzeb called on Imran to first give answers to her allegations before announcing his long march.
Minister of State for Petroleum Dr Musadik Malik also strongly criticised Imran's hand salute while addressing a press conference in Islamabad today.
"I don't even want to repeat that gesture because it was Hitler's [salute]," he said, further asking what should be said to the person who "takes oath from his people on Hitler's salute".
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Imran had made a game out of "national security and state secrets and interests".
"Conspiracy against the state for the sake of politics is not a game but a serious and unforgivable crime in the eyes of the Constitution and law for which the Constitution requires you to be punished," he said.
The interior minister said the PTI chief could not escape punishment for the above crime by doing a long march.
A day ago, Sanaullah had dared the PTI to come to Islamabad and not "hide".
The government had also decided to call out the army and deploy troops in Islamabad if Imran gave a call for the march.
The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Sanaullah to evolve a strategy to tackle the much-trumpeted PTI march.
Official sources told Dawn that the Pakistan Army would be deployed in the capital city’s Red Zone to stop the entry of protestors into the high-security area. The meeting decided that the security of all important buildings and the Diplomatic Enclave located in the Red Zone would be handed over to the Pakistan Army during the protest march.
The army troops would be called out in aid of civil administration under Article 245 of the Constitution, which says that “armed forces shall, under the directions of the federal government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.”
Responding to that development, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid said the attempt to pit the army against the people would fail.
"[Taking the name of] Article 245 is easy to say and difficult to apply," Rashid said, calling on the interior minister to "remain in his senses"
He cryptically said that politics would by November 15.
Chaudhry had also rebuked Sanaullah for his dare, telling him to talk according to his political standing.