PML-N hoping long march will be ‘damp squib’

Published October 24, 2022
PM Shehbaz in the National Assembly — PMO
PM Shehbaz in the National Assembly — PMO

ISLAMABAD: Although Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan has threatened to ann­ounce long march this week, sources in the government indicate the PML-N does not expect it to be any bigger than its previous power shows.

A source in Prime Minister Office told Dawn that public reaction to Mr Khan’s disqualification in Toshakhana case was not as high as the government had expected. Apparently, the ‘inadequate’ reaction also upset Mr Khan who then had to ask his supporters to call off their protests against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in various parts of the country, the source believed.

However, PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry had a different reason for the move to call off the protests. He said, “We did not want to start our protest with a knee-jerk reaction because we have already made a comprehensive plan how to stage the long march and what would be its arrangements.”

According to the source in the PM Office, in the wake of ‘inadequate’ public reaction, the PTI chief was ‘uncertain’ whether he would be able to pull ample number of people to streets or not for the much-trumpeted long march.

The source said the recent audio leaks in which ex-PM Khan could be heard purportedly suggesting that the US cipher should be presented as a ‘threat’ and that his party was to ‘play’ on it affected his charisma and followership.

Fawad Chaudhry says PTI didn’t want to start protest as knee-jerk reaction to Imran’s disqualification

Also, the Election Commission of Pakistan’s verdict in the Toshakhana case said Mr Khan had not declared in returns, the income he had generated by selling foreign gifts he obtained as premier during the past four years.

The government believed that it was quite difficult to change the mindset of PTI supporters even if Mr Khan was found guilty in any case, yet the recent Toshakhana case verdict might have raised some questions in their minds.

On the other hand, Fawad said a comprehensive plan was ready to hold the march for which the PTI chairman would announce a date this month. It was possible that it would be staged the very next month, he added.

Regarding venue of PTI’s sit-in in Islamabad after the long march, he said: “It has already been announced that our protest programme will be held in Fatima Jinnah Park (commonly known as F-9 Park, some six kilometres from D-Chowk, where PTI had staged its 120-day sit-in in 2014).”

Mr Fawad said it was not true that the ex-premier wanted to kickstart the ‘decisive’ march against the PML-N government with the reaction shown by his supporters on the day of his disqualification. “We did not want to start our protest with a knee-jerk reaction, because we have already made a comprehensive plan how to stage the long march and what would be its arrangements,” he added.

He elaborated that the PTI’s long march plan had details of the boarding and lodging of marchers, especially those who would join in from other cities. It described where they would arrive and where they would stay, he said, hinting that the sit-in could prolong.

However, another source in the government said, the ruling coalition had already made up its mind that no leniency would be shown if the PTI tried to barged into any other area of the federal capital, except the one to be allocated to the marchers.

“This time the government is fully prepared to meet any assault of the PTI in Islamabad,” the source added.

Earlier, the PTI chairman had announced that he would give a call of long march in October. With only a week left in the current month and weather turning cold in Islamabad with each passing day, many believed that it would be difficult for Mr Khan to pull huge crowds to throng the ‘sensitive areas’ of the federal capital.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2022

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