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November 15, 2019

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November 15, 2019

With unexpected suddenness Maulana Fazlur Rehman announced on Wednesday that he was ending the sit-in in Islamabad which has continued for 13 days. The maulana said that his party and other opposition groups remained committed to forcing the resignation of the prime minister but would do so through separate protests in various cities and a lock down of key roads. The most interesting development has however been the meeting between Fazl and the Chaudhry brothers of the PML-Q, who are on paper at least allies of the PTI government. In slightly cryptic remarks, Chaudhry Shujaat said on the occasion that perhaps in three months no one would want to be a prime minister of the country. This has been interpreted by Maulana Fazl as stating that after the mess left by Imran and his team, no one would wish to clean out the Augean stables. For now, this is all conjecture. But certainly, the words, their harshness and their implications leave us even more open to uncertainty than ever before.

The immediate signs do not indicate that Fazl’s new plan is having any visible impact. Perhaps the crucial factor will be the PML-Q’s role. While Islamabad remains littered with piles of containers and a gathering of mainly JUI-F workers continues, there has been no evidence of protests or road blockades. There have been suggestions from analysts that Maulana Fazl made his decision based on the fact that the weather in Islamabad is becoming chillier by the day and heavy rains are forecast over the weekend. There have been reports of people at the ‘dharna’ falling sick due to weather changes and of at least some, mainly from Sindh, opting to leave the venue on their own. The decision leaves the PPP in a very awkward position. The Sindh government has said it will not allow Karachi to be disrupted and the lives of people cannot be thrown into chaos by lockdowns or protests.

At the moment then it seems that Maulana Fazl and his team have had to retreat from their position. Some say that the lockdown warnings may be an exit route. The score then stands at impending victory for the government and limited gains for the opposition. The JUI-F in particular has been able to demonstrate its street strength and discipline. However, the government has essentially remained determined not to give in on demands that the prime minister resigns and a new election be held. There is however in the sit-in a warning to the PTI government that opposition forces against it are sizable in number and that Imran Khan is not a universal popular prime minister. The consequences of this may play out in the future and certainly developments over the coming days will be watched closely. It would be foolish if the government claimed any kind of victory or made suggestions celebrating this. Instead it would be wise to keep the doors for negotiations with opposition groups open given that this is essential to running a democracy, bringing about stability in the country and working to devise policies which harm the people such as the extraordinary rates of inflation in many common food items and other evidence of incompetent management by the government.

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