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June 28, 2019

Something of a whimper?

 
June 28, 2019

In the days prior to the gathering of most of the country’s opposition parties at an eight-hour long APC in Islamabad on Wednesday, we had heard a number of threats being made about agitation against the government, a lockdown of Islamabad and other kinds of civil disobedience. As it happens, at the conclusion of the APC chaired by Maulana Fazalur Rehman of the JUI-F and attended by all major opposition leaders including Shahbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Asfandyar Wali, Hasil Bizenjo, Mahmood Khan Achakzai and others, there was a less dramatic approach taken to what will happen next. The parties agreed that the chairman of the Senate would be replaced, the recently announced budget rejected and a ‘rehbar’ committee formed to consider other matters. Bodies set up by the government to look into debt recovery and development were also rejected. July 25, the parties agreed, would be observed as a ‘black day’ against what they termed a rigged election.

But when looked at in its entirety all this does not amount to very much. The current government is not likely to face any immediate challenge. There was a long discussion during the APC on various ways to challenge the current government, but in the end there was an agreement only on broad-based issues which essentially comprise a symbolic display. Opposition leaders have suggested that they do not wish to create chaos or further undermine stability in the country. We also wonder however if within so broad an alliance there is a general lack of accord on what to do and how to do it.

It is also true that the united opposition may be waiting for other developments. The elections in the area previously known as Fata are coming up and many believe the result will be worth-watching. Reports suggest some leaders attending the APC also suggested a policy of watching and waiting for a further few months. Essentially, we see a united opposition agreed on selective anger directed against the government. From what we have heard, Maulana Fazalur Rehman is the angriest for a variety of reasons. There are also reports that other parties may be attempting to work out deals involving their own leaders. The options before the opposition then are somewhat limited. While parties among them command significant street power, there was agreement at the meeting that this is not the time to unleash it. There was also agreement that Parliament must be used as fully as possible. What happens in the future is yet to be seen. A strong foundation for the opposition has been laid. The precise shape of the structure to be built on it will unfold over the coming months as developments on various fronts continue.