Will Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan step down after tens of thousands of religious hardliners have converged in to Islamabad for the Azadi March to ‘dethrone’ him?
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We have to wait and see how the influential cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman who is leading so called ‘Azadi or Freedom March’, will be ‘tamed’.
So far, he has not shown any signs of budging. At least two rounds of negotiations between the Maulana’s team and the government ended without any results. Prime Minister Imran Khan is using all possible negotiations to convince Maulana to forego his demand of his (Imran’s) resignation. He has also authorised his negotiation team to accept any demand from Maulana but his resignation. The government is, in fact, in a fix over finding a way out to end the protest, which they initially did not take seriously.
The Maulana had started the Azadi March protest rallies on October 27 and entered Islamabad on October 31 for a sit-in until Imran Khan resigns. With tens of thousands of people participating in Azadi March, he has emerged as a leader who has diehard followers who are very disciplined and do not move without his orders – scary signs.
His supporters have shown great patience and calm as they have not resorted to any violence or damaged property. But this calmness should not be taken as their weakness by the government as everyone knowns that Maulana’s hardline followers do not hesitate even to sacrifice their lives if he orders them to move forward and attack parliament or clash with forces in the worst case scenario.
Yes, these are the protestors, who have been sleeping under the sky without shelter on roads and parks for the last five days in Islamabad’s chilled weather conditions, patiently waiting for their leader’s decision –either to go back home or ‘anything else’ .
“The resignation of the Prime Minister is minimum and dissolving the assembly to hold new elections after reforms is our maximum demand,” Maulana made it clear in his speech on Monday night.
Going by the history, none of such movements in Pakistan has ever succeeded in removing a prime minister. Even Imran Khan himself failed to get the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif to resign after months of such protests in Islamabad in 2014.
The scenes of Azadi March sit-in in Islamabad are reminiscent of similar protests that Imran Khan led as an opposition leader in 2014 when his party –PTI– held months-long mass demonstrations in Islamabad in a failed bid to bring down the Nawaz Sharif’s government.
In fact, Imran Khan is getting a taste of his own medicine as Maulana’s Azadi march is not much different than Imran’s 2014’ dharna (Sit-in) demanding Sharif’s resignation and fresh elections.
The scenario is also the same as both Maulana and the government are not ready to budge. The Maulana and his fellow opposition leaders are delivering provocative speeches against Imran and his ministers. While on the other hand, the government ministers are ridiculing the Maulana’s Azadi March hurling insults and jokes.
This attitude by some government ministers will do no good but rather add to the political volatility in the country. Pakistan’s fragile democracy is the ultimate victim of this political confrontation.
Government benches should not take the Maulana lightly because he has shown his strength through the Azadi March emerging as the mainstream political leader coming out of the wilderness.
The use of force by the government against the Azadi March participants will also be counterproductive as his followers have the capability to shut down cities across the country without fearing for their lives.
For the first time, the Maulana is doing mainstream politics on national issues instead of solely relying on the religious card.
Other mainstream political parties including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are playing ‘hide and seek’ with the Maulana with ‘half-hearted support’. They, apparently, have shown their support for Maluana’s Azadi March but their supporters are not participating in the protests.
The government is finding it very difficult to defuse the situation. The Pakistani Army has also shown reluctance to get involved in the situation and has also warned the opposition to refrain from dragging the armed forces into their political skirmishes.
The government will have to give ‘something’ to the Maulana to defuse the situation, so that he can claim victory and walk away. If he gets nothing except insults, he can turn Islamabad into a ‘battlefield’— the option he does not want to opt unless pushed to the wall.
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