South Punjab is expected to be a key junction in the Azadi March
A senior leader of Pakistan Muslim League-N in Multan, on the condition of anonymity, says that the party leadership has told all ticket-holders, office bearers and workers that they should make arrangements to join the Azadi March.
The JUI-F has made the South Punjab region a key meeting point. According to JUI-F insiders, the Azadi March caravans will originate mainly from Sindh and Balochistan provinces.
The Sindh JUI-F and Pakistan Muslim League-N Azadi March caravans will enter from Kot Sabzal and Sadiqabad ahead of Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Lodhran and Multan. The caravans will turn to Multan-Lahore highway from Multan. The JUI-F has decided that the caravans in the Punjab will travel via the Grand Trunk Road to reach Islamabad.
Insiders say that the Azadi March will start from Karachi and proceed to Hyderabad, Matyari, Hala, Moro, Naushero Feroz, Kandyiro, Ranipur, Gambat, Khairpur by pass to Sukkur, Ghotki, Mirpur Mathelo, Dhirki to Kot Sabzal to Sadiqabad.
"According to the proposed plan, Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mehmood, the Pakistan Peoples Party South Punjab president will receive Azadi caravans from Sadiqabad to Rahim Yar Khan", Abdul Qadir Shaheen, coordinator South Punjab PPP, tells TNS.
According to the plan, the Pashtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PMAP) caravans will leave from Quetta for Islamabad via Zhob, Dera Ismael Khan, Kohat, Mardan and Peshawar. The party might update the plan in the coming days.
There are two options for marchers from Balochistan: JUI-F caravans can turn from Zhob to Indus Highway and reach Islamabad via Mardan and Peshawar. The other option is travelling from Balochistan to Zohb, Loralai, Rukhni, Bar Khan, Sakhi Sarwar, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, Khanewal and Lahore via the motorway and then to turn towards GT Road from Lahore to Islamabad.
A senior leader of JUI-F tells TNS on the condition of anonymity that the party has told each member to contribute Rs 6,000 for Azadi March. He says Rs 1.2 million has been collected so far from Multan district. When asked about back-up plans, he says, "We have decided if the government creates hurdles in the way of Azadi March, we will observe sit-ins, blocking all roads and highways."
PTI leader Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi is dismissive of Azadi March. The nation, he says, should pay no heed to such rumors. Talking to journalists in Multan, he says that the opposition are divided over Azadi March. "The lack of consensus within the opposition over the Azadi March will stand in its way", he says.
Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-N president has repeatedly said that there is no justification for the activity. He posited that the PML-N should not extend support for the Azadi March. Only Mian Nawaz Sharif among party leaders is in favour of Azadi March, he says.
The PPP too appears divided over the Azadi March. Bilawal Bhutto who strongly opposed the PTI sit-in has said that sit-in politics would weaken democracy in the country. But now, he has announced that he will be welcoming the Azadi March.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi says that the PTI had observed a 126 days sit-in for a reasonable agenda. The JUI-F, he says, that lacks any concrete agenda. The PTI sit-in was also non-violent, he says. "Every Pakistani is going to observe the black day on October 27 against Indian invasion of Kashmir. All Pakistan missions abroad will also observe black day on October 27," he adds.
Dr Atiqur Rehman, the Punjab JUI-F president, says that the party will express solidarity with Kashmiris on October 27 before the formal launch of the Azadi March. Talking to this scribe during his visit to Multan, he says the Azadi March has incorporated traders’ demands into the Azadi charter.
"We are backing the Kashmiris’ cause but look how the government is politicizing the Kashmir cause," he says.
He rejected the impression that the JUI-F volunteer force would be violent. He says that all members of the volunteer force are responsible political workers and committed to non-violence.
Dr Atiqur Rehman says that the PTI government in the Punjab and the administration plan to use force against the peaceful caravans. The government is planning mass arrest of JUI-F workers across the province. "The JUI-F has finalised back-up plan to counter government measures," he says.
"PTI is a hybrid regime. We have finally decided on traveling via GT Road in the Punjab to reach Islamabad and hope the government will not create hurdles in the way of our peaceful march. However, plans may change, depending on the situation. I am thankful to all opposition parties for joining and supporting Azadi March", he says.
The author is a reporter of The News based in Multan