The never march

Published November 20, 2022

THREE weeks after Imran Khan set off from Lahore on a ‘long’ and rather well-punctuated march to Islamabad, he has yet to arrive. Many were expecting an ETA yesterday afternoon, but now will have to wait at least another week for it.

Given how eagerly PTI leaders had hyped up the PTI chairman’s Saturday address, it proved a damp squib. Mr Khan only unveiled his itinerary till Nov 26, when he will rejoin the march in Rawalpindi. The confusion spurred by his announcement would have been amusing had it not been for what is at stake.

Imran Khan is, after all, headed to Islamabad to force the government to resign. Unfortunately for those who have cast their lot with him, their moment of truth seems to have been rescheduled for a more opportune time.

For others, regardless of whenever it arrives, the PTI’s ridiculously long march has already overstayed its welcome. Life in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi has been condemned to a state of semi-paralysis just because their overeager administrations and fidgety police forces cannot seem to decide the magnitude or severity of the challenge they may face. The march, its benefits, its depredations, what can be done to stop it, how it will succeed — these topics have featured ad nauseam in newspaper headlines, TV bulletins and social media streams for more than three weeks now.

The blood of innocent people has been spilt along the way in senseless and tragic accidents. The PTI chief himself has had a narrow brush with death. The march has been exhausting in more ways than one — and now, the PTI chief has gone and inexplicably added at least one more week to it. Surely his supporters must feel even more frustrated than those who have to follow him around because of the compulsions of their occupation.

The PTI chief’s arrival in Rawalpindi will coincide with an important change of command in the garrison city. Given how fluid the situation is, it is perhaps best to avoid speculation even if it appears obvious what his motivation could be. Nevertheless, what Mr Khan is doing is a great disservice to his people, who have been following him with conviction and belief. Mass movements are not commandeered for the sake of deals made away from the public eye.

PTI supporters, who have keenly waited for the culmination of the ‘Haqeeqi Azadi’ march, can do little but wait longer. Does Mr Khan not value their effort and time? The PTI chief should really consider treating his followers as equals instead of sheep, to be herded when and where he pleases. He should either take them into confidence and explain his reasons for repeatedly prolonging the march or acknowledge that it was always less about attaining ‘haqeeqi azadi’ and more about securing his own political ambitions.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2022

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