The Azadi March: a game of cards

By Mobeen Jafar Mir

The Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) managed to secure only 3.2 per cent of the popular vote during the general elections of 2013, the last election where its head, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman paved the way for his entry into the National Assembly (NA). However, in the general elections of 2018, Mr Rehman could not maintain his continuous trend of electoral conquest, which was fiercely halted in the wake of the whopping electoral victory of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Since then, the JUI-F, along with the opposition parties, has launched a smear campaign against the incumbent government of the PTI; accusing the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led federal government of committing massive rigging with the connivance of the Pakistan Army. The ongoing Azadi March, led by the JUI-F and other major opposition parties, notably the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), is a glimpse of the opposition’s simmering grudge against PTI.

Mr Rehman, who is playing a leading role in the ongoing Azadi March, has presented two demands before the government. First is the resignation of the PM Imran Khan and second is the timely holding of new and fresh elections without the military supervision. As per the agreement, however, signed between the government and the opposition last week, the Azadi March will be confined to Islamabad’s H-9 area, in the Sunday bazaar grounds. What, however, can be justly termed as a dramatic turn of events on Friday, Mr Rehman gave an ultimatum of two days to the government to step down or face dire consequences. There are looming fears that if differences are not sorted out in a disciplined way, things may go out of hand.

One of the reasons, which unprecedentedly boosted the courage of Mr Rehman is the political vacuum created in the aftermath of arrests of the heads of the opposition parties, namely Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

Another reason, which merits attention is the excessive usage of words “Israel and Palestine” by the speakers of the Azadi March. The majority of participants in the Azadi March are pupils of the madrassas located in the far-flung areas of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). They are over-sentimental when it comes to any religious cause. This is what has made the Azadi March an imminent danger to the rule of law, which is prone to a disturbance, in case a “Religious Card” is used to further the interests of a particular group.

Mr Rehman, who is playing a leading role in the ongoing Azadi March, has presented two demands before the government. First is the resignation of the PM Imran Khan and second is the timely holding of new and fresh elections

Likewise, the echoing mantra of blaming a particular institution in Azadi March is equally dismal and reeks of machinations of foreign powers. Calling Prime Minister Imran Khan a non-Pashtun is nothing short of playing an “Ethnic Card” to stir trouble among the Pashtuns. The unity of the Pashtuns is deeply dependent upon two elements: religion and a common enemy. Torchbearers of the Azadi March have so far cunningly managed to forge a temporary bonding by cashing on Palestine and Kashmir issues to garner the religious support as well as opposing PM Khan’s Pashtun ethnicity to attract the support of the Pashtuns by depicting him as an outsider.

There are no obvious threats to the incumbent government of PTI due to the unflinching confidence of governmental institutions behind it. Likewise, the PML (N) and the PPP have also shown a lukewarm response. It can weaken the momentum so far gained by the Azadi March. Additionally, they have signed an agreement with the government. If the participants of the Azadi March break the pledge, the law and enforcement institutions will come into action. Last but not least, the JUI-F is not enjoying a heavy majority in the NA. The JUI-F’s head is also not a member of the government. So, there are minor chances that the Azadi March will pose any threat to the government.

Whether there is any secret agenda of the Azadi March yet remains a mystery. However, different indicators, like broadcasting of these protests on the Indian media; support of these protests from Afghanistan and unconditional encouragement from the nationalist groups, especially Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, Awami National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, are some dimensions bearing a suspicious resemblance to William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, stating, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

The incumbent government of PTI has, unfortunately, also fallen short of its expectations on many fronts. This has provided a “Governance Failure Card” to the opposition. The card is swung into full action when the PTI is accused of not living up to its promises. There are several recommendations for boosting the dwindling prestige of the PTI. If it is to rejuvenate its confidence, the government should prove with decisive actions that the slogans of “change” were real and practicable. It must take pioneering steps to show that the civilian superiority reigns supreme in Pakistan. The promises of providing 10 million new jobs and five million new homes have dashed the hopes of the hopeful. Likewise, an all-embracing accountability drive should be embarked upon where all and sundry, irrespective of their party affiliations, are summoned before the law. The PTI should prove by its actions, not by merely lip-service, that the myth of “selected accountability” is unfounded. There are reports that loans of industrialists are being waved off by the federal government. Our economy is already in the doldrums. The PTI should not repeat the mistakes of the previous governments. There is a special need to wipe out the notorious evil of inflation and unemployment. May Pakistan prosper!

The writer is a research officer at the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI)


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