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December 3, 2020

Imran as a challenger


December 3, 2020

With the government and the opposition sticking to their positions, confrontation appears imminent. While PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif's a bid for reconciliation has been to no avail, Prime Minister Imran Khan is also said to have passed on a strong message to the powerful quarters that he would not succumb to any pressure as far as demands of fresh elections and his resignation are concerned.

Reputed to be a tough challenger who fights to the last, Imran Khan may even go tougher with the 11-party opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), if it decides to march towards Islamabad, goes for ‘court arrest’ movement, or opts for en bloc resignations from the assemblies.

Imran Khan often cites examples of pressures he faced during his cricketing days, and claims he would also frustrate the opposition by countering its pressure.

PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has called a meeting of alliance heads on December 8 for charting out the future course of action after the last public meeting in Multan. The PDM has already announced its last public meeting at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore, on December 13 to be followed by the decisive phase of the movement which include ‘march towards Islamabad,’ and en bloc resignations or a ‘court arrest’ movement on the pattern on 1983 MRD movement.

In the past 'Long Marches' often bore results before their end, but not in 2014 as Imran Khan, despite the longest sit-in and formation of a Judicial Commission to determine alleged rigging in 2013, had to wait for 2018 elections. It appears that the present opposition may even find it hard to get the key demands accepted which could lead to confrontation — a situation the powerful quarters may not like to see under the present circumstances.

PDM has already rejected any talk with the prime minister, but is ready for dialogue with the establishment, which many critics see as a major contradiction in opposition’s principled stance.

The Punjab government and administration has already come under heavy criticism from its own leaders and the federal ministers over mishandling of PDM’s Multan rally. Even the prime minister has also enquired as to what actually went wrong that PDM meeting got so much hype because of poor decision-making.

The PM on the other hand still has a cordial relationship with the establishment, and believes that all attempts to break this relationship would be foiled. In fact, he was not happy with certain intelligence quarters in handling of Mualana Fazlur Rehman’s first ‘dharna’ months back, and had expressed his displeasure over allowing him entry into Islamabad.

A well-informed source disclosed that the PM in his back-to-back meetings with some top officials had turned down the suggestion for any dialogue with PDM on its ‘charter of demands’. He, however, expressed his willingness for talks on issues like ‘electoral reforms’ and some proposed amendments in the Parliament.

Hence, there is no sign of any ice breaking, and the attempts for some back-channel contacts have also failed even within the PDM or PML-N as no one seriously considered Shahbaz Sharif’s appeal for ‘reconciliation.’

So the mainstream opposition parties may find their target harder to achieve than they had earlier thought. PM’s popularity graph may have gone down due to massive price hike and bad governance, particularly in Punjab, but he is still popular enough to take the opposition head-on. This is what he and his colleagues think.

More importantly, he and his PTI are still being referred over the two main opposition parties — PML-N and PPP — by relevant quarters, but any situation leading to confrontation may push them to ask PM and his government to do something to avoid this situation.

What will the Prime Minister do in case the PDM gives the final call for ‘Islamabad march.’ Shall he allow them to sit in the same venue where he himself stage a dharna for 126-days in Islamabad, or go for a ‘political lockdown’ of the Capital? He can also ask Pindi to stop the marchers, but without any concession, it would not be easy for them also.

Sao far, Prime Minister Imran Khan has shown no sign of flexibility in his stance towards the three key players of the alliance — Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and Maulana Fazlur Rehman — come what may. He has reportedly communicated this message to the powerful quarters also that he would not succumb to any pressure even if they resigned from the assemblies, thus closing all doors to dialogue as far as their key demand of his resignation is concerned.

Except for Shahbaz Sharif, the opposition has not toned down its narrative, and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, possibly, is preparing a ‘hard hitting’ speech for Lahore public meeting as PML-N would host the public meeting at its strongest hold.

The PM is of the view that he defeated the opposition parties in the last elections, and created a record in Kyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where his party not only retained its position, but has also routed parties like JUI-F, ANP and PML-N.

However, it is also a fact that in Punjab, PTI could not got enough seats, and had it not secured enough seats from Karachi, Imran Khan would have found it hard to form the government. In Karachi, the PTI created a record by getting 14 seats out of 20, which even surprised its present ally — MQM (Pakistan) — which alleged that their victories were stolen.

After almost one year, Imran Khan visited his ally, Ch Shujaat Hussain, to enquire after him, in a bid to ease the pressure. He had conversation with Ch Pervez Elahi also, which many believe could go a long way in improving the situation. Another round of talks is also expected before the Senate elections.

Imran has also decided to speed up his ‘Karachi Transformation Plan,’ and boost his relationship with MQM (Pakistan).

The PM has told his aides that the PDM would not be able to achieve anything out of its movement and even in the worst case scenario he will not be the loser.

“They don’t know me, but I know them well. I would expose them not only internally but also externally as plunderers involved in laundering money,’ one of his aides quoting him told me. The PM blamed the opposition for the rise in coronavirus cases.

Thus, he is apparently ready to face a team of 11, and believe they can’t face his fiery spell on a wet wicket in cold weather. The PDM leaders like Sharif, Zardari and Mulana have their own game plan to surprise him.