The storm rages on

May 29, 2022

The political crisis in Pakistan continues amid PTI’s threats of long march, the hanging sword of stringent IMF conditionalities and the PML-N-led government’s reluctance to take unpopular decisions

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— Photo by Rahat Dar


ast week, Islamabad’s D-Chowk, the square in front of the parliament house, remained a virtual battlefield for several hours.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had announced a long march on the capital city, also threatening a sit-in. It had demanded that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif dissolve the assemblies and set an early date for the general elections. Imran Khan, the PTI chief, voted out as prime minister after his coalition allies left him and joined hands with the opposition, has accused the opposition of being a part of an international conspiracy against his regime. All including the US government have called the accusations baseless.

On May 25, the government blocked all roads leading to Islamabad. In Islamabad, where PTI workers entered Red Zone and set fire to roadside trees, police used teargas to break crowds. A few hundred protesters had gathered at the square.

“We cannot go back. We are here at the call of our leader, Khan, against this government. We have told our families we are ready to die for this cause and to topple this ‘imported government’,” Akbar Ali from Faisalabad told The News on Sunday.

“We came unarmed,” he adds.

The Interior Ministry, on the request of district administration, also called the army to protect sensitive buildings in the Red Zone as the violence spread. However, the protesters dispersed before the deployment.

Khan had started his march from Peshawar and reached Islamabad in almost 20 hours of crossing hurdles. He was accompanied by several thousand workers form Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where his party rules. On reaching Islamabad on the morning of May 26, he addressing workers at Jinnah Avenue. He accused the government of starting the violence and forcing his workers to react. To avoid clashes, he said, they should disperse peacefully this time. He told the government to set an early date for the elections and to dissolve the assemblies within a week. Otherwise, he said, he would lead another, bigger march on Islamabad.

— Photo by Rahat Dar

“I have seen in the last 24 hours that the government is taking the nation towards anarchy,” said Khan, adding, “I don’t want them to succeed in causing clashes between our police and army and our workers.”

He said that the government was also trying to create a divide between the citizenry and the police. He said five PTI workers had died amid violence – three in Karachi, one in Swabi and one in Lahore. He said that the people were beyond fear and that the struggle for “real freedom” had just begun.

The federal government led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) defended roadblocks and arrest of PTI workers as a safety measure. It said the government had information that some of the PTI workers were armed and would initiate violence.

The federal government led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) defended roadblocks and arrest of PTI workers as a safety measure. It said the government had information that some of the PTI workers were armed and would initiate violence.

“They had a plan to make this march bloody and to spread anarchy,” Rana Sanaullah Khan, the interior minister, told the media. He said law enforcement in Islamabad and the Punjab had conducted as many as 4,414 police raids on PTI workers’ offices and residences and arrested at least 1,700 people. The Sindh government had carried out a similar crackdowns in Karachi and arrested around 50 PTI workers.

As tensions rose, the Supreme Court ordered the government to protect the constitutional right of the people to assemble and move peacefully. In its order, a three-member bench of the SC told the government to allow the PTI to hold a rally on a ground in H-9 area of the federal capital. The court urged the PTI to remain peaceful. The PTI representatives assured the court that there will be no violence or damage to property.

The government also said the march was timed to coincide with the start of a round of talks with the IMF. It accused the PTI of trying to sabotage the talks.

— Photo by Rahat Dar

“The IMF team emphasised the contravention by the previous government of its agreement with the Fund. The new government is committed to reducing the overall budget deficit in FY23,” a Finance Ministry spokesperson said.

In a bid apparently to avoid public backlash, the new government has not increased the prices of fuel since it took over.

Analyst Najam Sethi had suggested a few days ago that the government alliance “should get out of this trap and return to the people immediately and let the ‘Selectors’ clean up what their puppet has left behind.”

He had also said the establishment was the big winner in the political fiasco and the PML-N the “biggest loser.”

The fate of the Punjab government too is unclear. The province has not had a cabinet for several weeks and now does not have a governor either.

It seems that the new regime has little time. They want to achieve certain goals before being compelled to hold elections. To this end, the National Assembly scrapped several laws made by the previous government including those providing for next general election to be held using electronic voting machines (EVMs) and providing for right to vote to overseas Pakistanis. The government also tabled a bill to clip the powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The house also passed a resolution for allowing the bill to be sent directly to the Senate for its approval, bypassing the relevant standing committee.

“We have suffered on account of this NAB law but we do not want anyone else to suffer,” said Azam Nazeer Tarar, the law minister. The law previously gave the NAB the power to detain a suspect for 90 days. The amended law allows for a 14-day remand.

Political commentator Zahid Hussain says it seems that early elections will not be held. He says the coalition government appears determined to complete its agenda of amendments to electoral law and legal remedies for those being tried by the NAB.

— Photo by Rahat Dar

“I don’t see immediate elections,” he says, adding, “However, the economic decisions will be very tough for the government. It might not be willing to take responsibility of for the economic fiasco.”

He says Imran Khan will continue to come up with new ways to protest and keep his campaign alive. However, holding another long march will be difficult, he says.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, in a speech in the National Assembly, also said that the coalition government would not take dictation from the opposition or bow before such tactics and pressures. The date for the next election will be decided by the coalition partners, he said. “However, doors are always open for talks and if you (Khan) need it, I can form a committee on this issue,” the prime minister said, indicating that he expects the PTI campaign to continue.

The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at: Twitter: waqargillani

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