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October 31, 2019

Azadi March: Longest-ever protest, traversing lengthiest journey


October 31, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is leading the longest ever protest long march having no precedent in Pakistan’s recent history, writes Tariq Butt.

When the Azadi March would reach Islamabad on Oct 31, it would have taken at least five days. It set off from Karachi on Oct 27 and would traverse some 1,137 kilometers from the business hub to the seat of the government.

After his ouster as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, leading a caravan with the theme of “respect the vote”, had reached Lahore in four days from Islamabad. He had embarked upon the journey on Aug 9, 2017 and landed in Lahore on Aug 12. He had campaigned against his Supreme Court-sanctioned disqualification.

Before that, the agitation also named as Azadi March, famously known as the tsunami march, separately but simultaneously launched by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek-e-Insaf (PAT) chief Allama Tahirul Qadri in 2014 had taken three days to hit the federal capital from Lahore.

These protests had begun from the Punjab capital on Aug 14 and arrived in Islamabad on Aug 16. The agitations sponsored by Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan/Qadri had covered a much small distance compared to Fazlur Rehman’s long voyage.

The former prime minister’s objective to agitate leading a convoy was to highlight the treatment meted out to him and fifteen previous premiers since Pakistan’s independence as they had been sent home before completion of their constitutionally mandated tenures. The protest was held when his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was still in government with Shahid Khakan Abbasi being the prime minister.

The marches organised by Imran Khan and Qadri were against the Nawaz Sharif government, alleging election rigging and calling for the prime minister’s resignation. Fazlur Rehman’s Azadi March is against the Imran Khan government, seeking the premier’s resignation and immediate fresh elections.

On the day following the July 25, 2018 general elections, the JUI-F chief had urged all the opposition parties in a joint meeting to quit the assemblies because of alleged massive electoral engineering and manipulation.

The PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had strongly opposed the idea, making Fazlur Rehman to accept the decision, though hesitantly.

A major highlight of the instant march is that there was not a single unpleasant, violent incident throughout its journey from Karachi to Lahore. No public or private property was destroyed, no political rival manhandled and office of no rival political party damaged in the way.

The entire programme has been flawless and the travel has been absolutely smooth and hassle-free. The normal life has not been much disturbed by now. It seems that the JUI-F did immense spadework and homework, firming up all the nitty-gritty much before the agitation was launched.

Months before its unfolding, Fazlur Rehman demanded the prime minister’s resignation or he will take out the Azadi March to pull down the government. After that he kept hammering his assertion. But most people especially the government ministers never gave his threats a serious thought and kept daring him to undertake his venture.

Sometime after the initial announcement, the JUI-F chief fixed Oct 27 as the beginning of the march. However, the government taunted him that this day was meant to protest by all Pakistanis because of the Indian action against the occupied Kashmir in 1947. Then, the JUI-F announced that the day would be observed to express solidarity with the Kashmiris. He stuck to his original programme and started his march on the same day from Karachi.

His unwavering determination to implement his political mission outmatched the resolve of a number of his contemporary politicians. He took the decision and executed it religiously. No amount of persuasion by different circles made him give up or even modify his plan.

Since word go, the PML-N and PPP had been hesitant to fully join the Azadi March, but the JUI-F surpemo stood ground. The emerging circumstances prevailed upon these parties to side with him completely. While the PML-N has been indecisive, its supreme leader and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif sent a message to Fazlur Rehman from jail through Capt (R) Safdar that his party would be part and parcel of the march. This buoyed up the JUI-F leader.

It was a rare sight to see even former Senate Chairman and PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani addressing the crowd at Sohrab Goth, Karachi gathered there to kick off the Azadi March. While in Sindh, the provincial PPP leaders were spotted on the container, standing with Fazlur Rehman as a show of solidarity.

At the very outset, the JUI-F had made it clear to the PML-N and PPP that he has enough public support to collect a huge number of people in order to put up a grand show and what he needs from them is only political support.

A principal noteworthy difference between the present Azadi Marchi and the 2014 protest is that there was matchless media hype and madness created by 24/7 TV channels about the previous show for months. Now, the electronic media coverage is extremely spares because of the tight restrictions and curbs.

Earlier, there were lots of fears as to what will the agitation produce for the democratic dispensation as well as Pakistan while at present there are too many apprehensions about the things to come.

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