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October 18, 2020

After Gujranwala


October 18, 2020

The expected did happen on Friday, October 16. People from the PML-N’s stronghold of Gujranwala and other areas along the GT Road belt responded to their party leadership’s call. On the day of the jalsa, the PML-N's flag-waving supporters, energized after a two-year dry-run and a rough one too, were out on the roads atop buses, Suzuki vans, buses, motorbikes – chanting 'Jaag Punjabi Jaag' and 'Sher Aaya Geedar Bhaga'.

Judging from the PML-N banners, Mariam Nawaz is seen as the PML-N leader and Nawaz Sharif’s successor. The unstoppable crowd moved in groups towards Gujranwala – despite the interior minister's announcement regarding containers being placed to stop cars (he did hint people could walk and so they did).

The combined opposition of 11 parties is now in an eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation with the PTI government. The confident and unflappable prime minister doesn't seem to take this threat seriously. His army of spokespersons often use memes, invectives and insults to roll back the mostly clearly established facts that the media, including social media, is reporting about the PDM rallies. So, while it seems after speaking to some on background that there appear to be some signs of worry in the government's camp about the PDM's planned activities, bravado is the order of the day for now.

Clearly, the PDM has only just begun its four-month plan. The signs after October 16 may be hopeful for the PDM yet much is still unknown: public responses in different cities; the ability to sustain street support over the next few months; the government's response; whether inflation, which certainly helped swell street support for the Gujranwala rally, be somehow removed?

Hence much remains in the unknown. The PDM's demand that Prime Minister Imran Khan's resignation must be followed by fresh elections may appear to remain only a demand.

What the PDM will be able to achieve in so far as its objectives are concerned is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, given Mariam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto's personal political conviction and commitment that the 'selected government' must go home and fresh elections must follow, the two will keep the PDM united. And that can be said equally for Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who as the leader of the PDM is committed to the movement remaining united.

As a political entity, potentially wielding some political power, the PDM is already there. Past the question of survivability, the question is of the impact it may or may not have. A sustained movement would potentially be impactful.

The next question then is: impact for what? For the government to be sent packing off? For the pulling back of institutional support? For the government-establishment equation falling apart? For fresh and free elections?

Whichever of the foregoing developments takes place – even if none of them does – we must remain mindful that there are these facts that have kept the last two years of Pakistan’s political life on a potholed path. Pakistan’s contradictions are now all out in the open – contradictions of our past, of our present, contradictions that we ignored or had let them be discussed on the margins of debate, contradictions that got gutted under new engineered structures with no staying power; contradictions that for the sake of propriety were left unspoken, contradictions that remained on the back-burner and hence never acquired the combustible property as they now do.

Some facts worth recalling: To the opposition, and more, Election 2018 was manipulated; of late, we have seen the Supreme Court and high courts declare that NAB is being used for a political agenda. Fact: Prime Minister Imran Khan is genuinely keen to fix the mess in Pakistan. Fact: Important steps taken to facilitate regional trade and commerce have been overshadowed by the wheat/sugar export blunders, the killer price hike, unemployment etc.

Fact: Prime Imran Khan concluded that to end corruption he must not engage with the opposition and hence totally refused to engage them. Instead, we have seen other institutional heads having to do that. The PM, meanwhile, has continued to wage political war on the opposition.

Fact: from Suharwardy, Fatima Jinnah through Bacha Khan, Benazir Bhutto, Bugti, Nawaz Sharif – the state declared politicians traitors to Pakistan. Fact: Nawaz Sharif’s criticism today contrasts with the fact that his party voted for the extension.

Fact: Kashmiris are in the process of losing Indian Occupied Kashmir as India gallops ahead with a systematically planned massive demographic manipulation of the region.

These contradictions are blowing in the wind, louder and louder by the day. So many truths. As partisans we take our pick, but out there in the open, they circulate in our common space – potentially as a combustible entity.

Let's not overplay the force of power and underplay the force of human mind and heart. The question is: do we have a genuine interlocutor to steer us towards some calmer, credible and saner path away from the currently mindless combative and self-destructive one?

Imran Khan means well. Yet life is about the greys, about processes, about taking everyone along, about healing not hating – and yes, about accountability absolutely but not about hounding.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @nasimzehra