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Islamabad braces for fourth long march

May 24, 2022

LAHORE: Yet another eventful long march, fourth during 2022, is ready to shatter the peace and tranquility of Islamabad’s residents on May 25 (Wednesday) onwards, as the ousted premier, Imran Khan, is now gearing up to lead a massive crowd against his successor Shehbaz Sharif’s “imported government” to the capital, demanding dissolution of assemblies and a date for fresh elections.

But then, the residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad must now be used to witnessing blocked roads, transport and internet disruptions, closure of markets and ensuing traffic muddles caused by political and religious processions during the last nine years and four months since Tahirul Qadri’s January 14, 2013 long march that was initiated in severe cold, research shows. On January 17 of the same year, the PPP government came for negotiations and struck an agreement, and Qadri had to call off his march. As far as Islamabad is concerned, it has been restive for around 200 days during this decade-long period under review. During 2022, PPP, PML-N and JUI-F have all led rallies to the federal capital against Imran Khan. While the Bilawal Bhutto-led march had commenced from Sindh on February 27, 2022 to culminate in Islamabad on March 8, PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz had spearheaded a crowd to the capital on March 26 to dislodge the then government. During the same period, the JUIF was also seen marching against surging inflation in the same vicinity. Earlier, in October 2021, on their way to Islamabad, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) supporters had triggered mayhem in small towns located along the Grand Trunk Road. Few cops were resultantly killed. In April 2021, when TLP supporters paralyzed life across numerous cities, Rawalpindi and Islamabad were no exceptions. In February 2021, the TLP had called off protests after the government assured it of tabling its demands in parliament for approval, but not before causing a lot of agony.

Rawalpindi, as research shows, has literally remained embattled since February-March 1947 when it had served as one of the breeding grounds for the Partition Riots. The city’s soil still stands soaked with the blood of two premiers, Liaquat Ali Khan and Benazir Bhutto, in 1951 and 2007 respectively. Punjab governor Salman Taseer was also murdered here in 2011. Rawalpindi witnessed a lot unrest on numerous occasions since 1953 when the first-ever Martial Law was imposed in parts of Punjab during the anti-Qadyani movement, after rioting, loot, arson and dozens of murders had disrupted life. Islamabad didn’t exist at that time. On March 6, 1953, a Rawalpindi mosque was set on fire by a mob. A printing press belonging to an Ahmadi was also set ablaze, leading to rioting. These 1953 riots had led to unprecedented political consequences as then Punjab CM Mumtaz Daultana and PM Khawaja Nazimud Din were ousted.

In 1968, when president Gen Ayub Khan had decided to celebrate his "Decade of Development," the National Student Federation had led protests throughout Pakistan including Rawalpindi. It was in Rawalpindi, on November 7, 1968, that police had opened fire on a student rally. Three students were killed. This repression resulted in nationwide student protests, and eventually on March 25, 1969, General Ayub had to transfer power to General Yahya Khan who immediately imposed Martial Law. The calmness of Rawalpindi was also disturbed during the 1977 Pakistan National Alliance movement against then PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1979, Bhutto was hanged in Rawalpindi. On November 21, 1979, a mob had stormed the US Embassy in Islamabad and set ablaze the whole building, following a radio report that the US had bombed the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. Two Americans had perished in this attack, along with two Pakistani staffers.

On July 4-5, 1980, the Shia community had marched on Islamabad to protest the enforcement of the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance by then president Gen Ziaul Haq. On April 10, 1988, the Ojhri Camp disaster had rocked Rawalpindi, killing more than 1,300 people. In 1992, the late Benazir Bhutto announced a long march against the Nawaz Sharif government, levelling allegations of electoral rigging and corruption.

The November 1992 long march also saw the participation of the Jamaat-e-Islami under Qazi Hussain Ahmad. The long march witnessed the participation of political leaders including the late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the late Muhammad Khan Junejo, the late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Gauhar Ayub Khan, Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo and Hamid Nasir Chattha.

In 1993, following several weeks of political turmoil and a threat by Benazir Bhutto to march on Islamabad, COAS Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar had then "convinced" the sitting president (Ghulam Ishaq Khan) and prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) to resign in quick succession on July 18 of the same year.

During Benazir Bhutto’s second term, the October 27, 1996 protests spearheaded by the JI and other political entities had reaped their desired objective of toppling a sitting government in the quickest time. Just a week later, on November 4, 1996, Benazir’s government was dismissed by president Farooq Leghari.

In February 2006, violence had also erupted here following the publication of blasphemous caricatures in Denmark. Several people lost lives and a lot of loss to public and private property was inflicted.

In 2007, Rawalpindi's lawyers protested against a presidential reference and manhandling of then deposed CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

These were the turbulent years characterized by unsuccessful attempts on lives of Gen Musharraf and Sheikh Rashid, the Lal Masjid siege, the attack on students and officials of Army Medical College near the General Headquarters, the October 2007 blast splattering a check-post outside the residence of then chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Tariq Majeed, the November 2007 attack on ISI officials, the assassination of the Pakistan Army's top medic Lt Gen Mushtaq Baig on February 25, 2008, dozens of suicide attacks on mosques, worship places and in key markets, and the October 2009 attack on the GHQ. In March 2009, Nawaz Sharif led a march against then PM Yusuf Raza Gillani to Islamabad but called it off at Gujranwala.

During the 126-day PTI-PAT August 2014 Azadi March, while Imran Khan’s loyalists had showed a lot of grit, Tahirul Qadri’s “religiously-motivated” followers had also sent ripples down the spine of the Nawaz government. On Nov 8, 2017, a 22-day long sit-in was organized by TLP and Sunni Tehreek in Islamabad, after the PMLN government and the protesters signed an agreement, reportedly facilitated by the Pakistan Army. However, the truce was reached following Law minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation. On Oct 27, 2019, Maulana Fazlur Rehman had led an 18-day Azadi march on Islamabad. In September 2020, thousands of protesters had rallied in anti-France demonstrations across Pakistan, including the twin cities under review.

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