October 28, 2022
ISLAMABAD – ON Tuesday, after weeks of prevaricating, PTI chairman Imran Khan announced that his party would, for the second time this year, begin its march on Islamabad on Friday. Public emotions are riding high after Arshad Sharif, a prominent journalist who had been strongly critical of the state in recent months, was shot dead by police in Kenya under highly suspicious circumstances.
His killing has rekindled public anger and distrust of state institutions. PTI supporters believe that Mr Sharif may have been targeted for his views — an allegation backed by Mr Khan. It remains to be seen, however, if the PTI can channel this new anger into a stronger campaign — which it may this time around.
Meanwhile, Mr Khan’s reported frustration at not achieving an agreement — behind closed doors — with the establishment is also being cited as a possible trigger for the march announcement.
It may be recalled that the PTI’s last attempt at forcing the government’s ouster had flopped quite spectacularly. The party’s supporters, facing a crackdown by the Islamabad and Punjab administrations, had been unable to draw large enough numbers to pose any major threat to the PDM.
Things will be different this time, as the PTI’s ally, the PML-Q, is in power in Punjab, and the party will be able to consolidate there before moving to the capital. Regardless of how the campaign plays out, neither the government nor the PTI can afford to exceed their limits in the pursuit of their respective goals.
Last time, the government had made a royal mess of things by resorting to violence and subversive tactics that greatly damaged its democratic credentials. Giving law enforcers free rein only ends up exacerbating tensions rather than defusing them. The protestors, too, need to be told to eschew violence.
By Imran Khan’s own admission, his supporters had turned up to the May protests carrying weapons. He claimed he was forced to call off the protests prematurely to avoid a civil war-like situation. The PTI is within its rights to march peacefully, but it must take care to prevent such occurrences this time if it wishes to retain those rights.
Lastly, the PTI must be asked again what it hopes to accomplish with its ‘long march’. Its move will roil domestic markets till the new wave of uncertainty that has been unleashed simmers down. Meanwhile, the government has made it clear it is in no mood to call early elections, and it is uncertain how bringing protestors to the capital, no matter what their numbers, will change that.
The PDM, too, had tried to pressure the PTI government on multiple occasions during the latter’s tenure through marches and protests but was only able to achieve its goal through parliament. Does the PTI expect to rewrite the playbook? Only time will tell if Mr Khan actually has a plan or is just taking a swing in the dark.