From PPP to PML-N to PTI: A history of long marches and sit-ins in Islamabad

Ruling parties and oppositions have changed over the years, but the call to march on the capital has lingered on.


May 26, 2022

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s attention is on yet another long march headed to Islamabad, this time on the call from PTI. But long marches and sit-ins in the capital are not unprecedented; the city has seen a number of political movements over the past decades.

Until 2014, the most famous marches were spearheaded by the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif when both were in opposition. After that, the PTI set the record for the longest dharna while the Faizabad Interchange became infamous as Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s venue of choice for its multiple disruptive protests.

Here, looks back at some of the most prominent long marches and sit-ins to take place in the capital.


The first major demonstration in the capital took place on July 4 and 5, 1980, when the Shia community marched on the capital to protest the enforcement of the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance by former president Ziaul Haq.

The protesters, led by Shia leader Mufti Jaafar Hussain, laid siege to the federal secretariat, effectively paralysing the bureaucracy. It was then that the government gave in to the protesters’ demands and declared them exempt from paying Zakat to the state.


Then on Aug 17, 1989, during Benazir Bhutto’s first term as prime minister, opposition parties led by Nawaz Sharif surged towards the capital to observe the first death anniversary of Ziaul Haq at the picturesque Faisal Mosque.

This was the first-ever challenge to the government of the day, which initially decided — much like the ruling party of today — to seal Islamabad. But later saner heads prevailed and Aitzaz Ahsan, who was interior minister at the time, facilitated the entry of the mourners.

They later dispersed peacefully after paying their respects and making political speeches. Some observers maintain that by doing so, the marchers got what they wanted.


A few years later, on November 16, 1992, Benazir Bhutto, now leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, announced a long march after declaring that the 1990 general elections were rigged. This movement forced the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was president at the time, to dissolve the first Sharif government, though it was reinstated on Supreme Court orders on May 26, 1993.


The next year, on July 16, 1993, Benazir Bhutto marched on the capital again, which was completely sealed this time around. The situation was defused after the army chief, Gen Waheed Kakar, forced President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.

Benazir Bhutto moves through tear gas smoke during a protest rally against the first Nawaz Sharif government. — From the archives


The lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judiciary began when former military ruler Pervez Musharraf sacked chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in March of 2007. This led to countrywide agitation, culminating in the first long march, which consisted of Justice Chaudhry and his entourage, including lawyer leaders Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir A. Malik and Ali Ahmed Kurd, going around the country campaigning for restoration.

After a brief restoration, Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November of 2007 and sent the top judge packing for a second time. Judges were detained and made to retake their oaths, a move which many judges resisted.

This prompted the second leg of lawyers’ protest, which culminated in a countrywide long march to the capital under the regime of the Pakistan People’s Party. Led by Nawaz Sharif, the march was called off in Gujranwala after the then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made a late night speech announcing the reinstatement of the former chief justice and all the other judges of the superior judiciary.


Between October 2013 and March 2014, the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, a group of people whose loved ones had allegedly been picked up by security agencies, marched from Quetta to Islamabad via Karachi on foot, in what was the first ever long march in the truest sense of the word.

Participants of the long march sit outside the National Press Club on Saturday. — Tanveer Shahzad/File

Led by Mama Qadeer, a group of about 30 marchers, including a number of women and children, walked a total of 2,000 kilometres, breaking the record set by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — the great non-violent activist of undivided India — during the Salt March of 1930. But despite their resolve, the activists were unable to exert enough pressure on the government to secure the acceptance of their demands.


Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri marched from Lahore to Islamabad on January 14, 2013 and camped out at Jinnah Avenue near D-Chowk for over four days. That sit-in ended after successful negotiations between the government of the day and the protesters.

See: The women of the PAT ‘Revolution’


The PTI’s last major protest march and sit-in in the capital lasted over 120 days in 2014 wherein it had demanded the resignation of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and an audit of the 2013 general elections. The PTI at that time was also backed by PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri who along with his supporters remained in the capital for over two months.

PTI and PAT started their sit-ins at Kashmir Highway on August 15 and entered the red zone on August 19.

After 126 days of non-stop protests, Imran Khan called off the sit-in outside the parliament on December 17 in the wake of the APS Peshawar terrorist attack in which over 140 schoolchildren were killed.


In 2017, thousands of religious foot soldiers of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) paralysed Islamabad and Rawalpindi for more than 20 days by blocking Faizabad Interchange, the main link between the twin cities.

The protests, led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, followed the passage of the Elections Act 2017, which they believed deliberately modified the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath as part of some conspiracy.

ReadFaizabad sit-in: A war of attrition

The protest came to an end on November 27, 2017 after the government gave in to the demands of the protesters. The six-point agreement was signed by the government and the protesters after six people were killed while hundreds were injured during a failed operation to evict them.


H-9 in Islamabad was the venue for Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F)’s 13-day sit-in against the PTI government in 2019. The march begun from Karachi on October 27 and entered the federal capital on Oct 31.

After getting a cold response from the government to its deadline for then-Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation and being deserted by major opposition parties PML-N and PPP, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman called off the sit-in and announced that his party would continue its anti-government protests in other regions of the country as part of its so-called Plan B.


TLP launched the ‘Tahafuz Namoos-i-Risalat’ march from Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi to Faizabad in Islamabad on November 15, demanding cutting of diplomatic ties with Paris and a boycott of French products. Liaquat Bagh became a battleground as police and stick-wielding activists of TLP clashed throughout the day yet the protesters, whose number was officially given at about 3,000, managed to reach Faizabad Interchange where they staged a sit-in.

Security personnel stand at Murree Road to prevent violence by TLP activists camped at Faizabad. — Mohammad Asim/White Star

On November 16, TLP announced that the government accepted all its four demands and eventually its workers dispersed from Faizabad.

In the first week of 2021, however, under the new leadership of Hafiz Saad Rizvi — appointed as his father’s successor shortly after the death of TLP founder Allama Khadim Rizvi — TLP threatened to relaunch its protest if the government did not fulfil its promise of expelling the French ambassador by Feb 17.

What followed were more agreements, Saad Rizvi’s arrest as well as that of hundreds of workers, and TLP being declared a banned outfit by the government, until the then Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on April 20 said that the TLP had agreed to call off protests across the country while “talks with the party will continue”.

Policemen detain a TLP supporter in Rawalpindi on April 14. — AFP

Fierce TLP and police clashes again broke out in October 2021 after the group tried to resume its march on Islamabad to pressurise the government to accept its demands. Members of the negotiating team from the government side on October 31 claimed that they had reached an ‘agreement’ with the TLP in order to end the nearly two-week-long impasse, but refused to divulge its details.


Protesters calling for an end to enforced disappearances in Balochistan held a week-long sit-in in the capital. The families of the missing persons had set up a camp outside the National Press Club but after failing to get the government’s attention, decided to march towards D-Chowk on February 16.

They called off the sit-in on February 22 after an assurance that then-Prime Minister Imran Khan would meet them next month.

“We don’t have any big hopes from this government, but the way they have reassured us, we also have decided to give them a chance,” Sammi Baloch, who has been searching for her father Deen Muhammad since 2009, had said


From PPP to PML-N to PTI: A history of long marches and sit-ins in Islamabad

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (2-R) and former president Asif Ali Zardari (3-R) address supporters near D-Chowk on March 8. — Photo courtesy: PPP Twitter

In February, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari announced that the party would take out an anti-government long march, dubbed the Awami March, to Islamabad, travelling through 34 cities and towns.

On February 28, scores of workers set out from Bilawal Chowrangi in Karachi’s Clifton. During the march, Bilawal lashed out at the former PTI government and Imran Khan, holding them responsible for the country’s woes.

The 10-day march eventually culminated near Islamabad’s D-Chowk, in front of Parliament House on March 8.

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