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Wednesday December 01, 2021

Protests against inflation: Opposition pins high hopes on changed situation

October 22, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The fast-emerging new political situation has provoked a change of mode of protest by the major opposition parties, which have been experiencing a long hibernation.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has launched low-key street protests primarily against the massive hike in fuel prices and other items of daily use. Independent of the PDM, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has also begun its own protests, also in a low key. Its shows held in some cities of Punjab have been symbolic, lacking any significant people’s participation while the PDM show in Rawalpindi was a little bit better.

Both the PDM and PPP have pinned hopes on the aggravation of the woes of the government, which is embroiled in a crisis of its own making. They hope that their protest will further weaken the dispensation. The issuance of a notification of the appointment of the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which could have been resolved within no time without any hassle, has been unnecessarily dragged on, igniting speculation.

The PDM got a boost from its key public rally in Faisalabad, which was a good power show after a long time. It had been scheduled before the new situation took the country by storm. Most important was the speech of Maryam Nawaz, which covered different aspects of the changed scenario. Her aggressive line had been completely sanctioned by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) supremo Nawaz Sharif. On the other hand, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s address was measured and calculated and focused on Prime Minister Imran Khan.

At a time when the opposition parties are engaged in ratcheting up pressure on the government, its allied parties-- including the PMLQ, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQMP), Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA)-- have maintained a deliberate silence, keenly watching the situation from the sidelines. They have neither come to the help of the regime nor have they taken on its myriad rivals. They have been a silent spectator and have left the PTI on its own to sort out its battles single-handed.

The BAP is entangled in its own mess in Balochistan. It is least concerned about what is happening in Islamabad and is more engrossed in the fate of Chief Minister Jam Kamal Alyani. As the fate of the no-confidence resolution moved against Alyani will be decided next week, the BAP will remain distracted by its own affairs in the days and weeks whether the chief minister survives or sinks.

Even otherwise, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) allies have always been aloof from what their senior partner has been facing at the hands of the PDM and PPP or what it has been confronted with for any other reason. At no critical time had they come to its rescue if the past is any guide. Everyone is clear how far their association will and can remain steadfast and when it will alter.

For a change, even a perennial reconciliation voice like Shehbaz Sharif has also endorsed the street protests of the PDM and joined the voice of its other leaders, who have been calling for such an approach. Despite the new policy, the PDM is yet to finally decide about the timing of the long march on Islamabad that it had been talking about for long.

The turnout of protesters in the PDM street agitation against the price hike and the individual contribution of its component parties to such demonstrations, especially the PML-N and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) would be noteworthy to watch. The PDM is also broaching the idea of holding a big public show that it claims may be the last act of the drama.

There is a clear feeling in the PDM that the situation has reached a stage where it will be difficult for the government to sustain itself. It believes it is the opportune time to give a push to its protest movement to further rattle the government. For the first time since the 2018 general elections, the level of optimism in its ranks is soaring.

For its part, the government seems to have nothing to offer to put a brake to the back-breaking inflation. Its steps, taken through some provincial governments, have produced few results and have not reined in the price spiral or the profiteers. As the official actions intensify against the sugar mills, the price of the commodity has gone out of control.

The justifications for skyrocketing prices presented by the government are hardly convincing and impressive for the common man and fixed income groups. Its principal argument is that when the oil prices shoot up internationally, the government is left with no option but to raise them. This time, the prime minister doubled the increase in petrol price to even what was proposed by the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra), apparently to satisfy the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Because of the separate protests by the PDM and PPP, the weight and impact of their movement is not orchestrated and coordinated. While the PMLN is inclined to have the PPP on board, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has stated that there is no chance to prevail upon the PPP to join forces with the PDM. It will be closely observed in the coming days whether the PDM and PPP would be able to pile up enough pressure on the government.