The Awami Long March is about to descend upon Islamabad on March 8 amidst a slew of other events
Islamabad prepares for prolific traffic jams and opinions flying around in anticipation of the Awami Long March of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). At the time of writing, it is in Khanewal. It is scheduled to land in the federal capital on March 8 (Tuesday).
A cricket match will likely be in progress at Rawalpindi Stadium, close to Faizabad, the main junction between Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
When matches are held at the stadium, all three main arteries of the twin cities – Murree Road, Islamabad Expressway and IJP Road are blocked with long tailbacks.
Aurat March is scheduled to take place on March 8 as well, from National Press Club to D-Chowk. Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and some other groups are also eager to hold their marches on the same venue at the same time, but with a different agenda.
Entry of the Awami Long March in this equation on March 8 is likely to overshadow these events if the capital police succeed to preserve calm by that time.
Islamabad IGP Ahsan Younas has a history of controlling large crowds in big cities, especially in Rawalpindi.
Before being promoted to the office, he was the Rawalpindi city police officer (CPO) and made his mark by controlling a TLP rally last year.
Since the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the confessed assassin of Governor Salmaan Taseer, the TLP had repeatedly staged big public shows at Faizabad. Under Younas, the police stopped them on Murree Road and they were unable to occupy Faizabad.
The PPP long march will test his crowd management skills.
Then there is Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat, the seasoned deputy commissioner of Islamabad. He is credited by some with keeping the city calm.
Shafqaat had successfully managed the JUI-F dharna keeping the protesters confined to Kashmir Highway for weeks in 2019.
“Order is more important than law at such times. I am confident that we will keep the citizens of Islamabad in peace during the PPP Awami March,” says Shafqaat.
According to Qambar, a large group will be gathered from Gujar Khan and the crowd will be big in Islamabad as it is an opportunity to show solidarity with the party not only for local jiyalas but also for those living in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
“The PPP had originally planned a gathering at Faizabad. Now they say that they will go to D-Chowk,” he says. According to Shafqaat, the district administration has not granted permission for any march on Tuesday. “We are coordinating with the PPP organisers. I believe that the marchers will not stay in Islamabad for a long time,” he says.
Rana Wahab, the Potohar SP, says that fool-proof security is in place for the Australian cricket team. He says no compromise will be made at the time of the PPP march.
“The marchers will not disturb Rawalpindi a lot as they will enter Islamabad from T Chowk, the junction of GT Road and Islamabad Expressway,” he says.
Badar Bashir Badar, senior vice president of the Peoples Labour Bureau in Rawalpindi, says that jiyalas will welcome the Awami March at Gujar Khan, home constituency of party’s central leader and former prime minister Raja Pervez Asharafm and join them.
Raja Qambar, a PPP local leader from Kallar Syedan, says that Raja Pervez Asharaf, his brothers and his sons are going from door to door to convince people to take part in the march. “If someone asks Ashraf to come to their home instead of them going to the march, he does so and listens to their grievances,” says Qambar.
According to Qambar, a large group will be gathered from Gujar Khan and there will be a large crowd in Islamabad as this is seen as an opportunity to show solidarity with the party not only for local jiyalas but also for those living in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, a PPP stalwart, and his group are expected to welcome the march at T Chowk and accompany it to D Chowk.
Azhar Bhatti, the local PPP information secretary, says that the march will be a success. Raja Umair, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF) general secretary, says that students will show their support for Bilawal Bhutto. He says they are making arrangements for lodging and hygiene of the marchers in Islamabad.
For now, several marquees and hotel rooms have been booked for participants of the march and their leaders in Sahiwal.
Food is being prepared for over 20,000 people. The march is headed to Sahiwal via Khanewal and Mian Channu.
A number of participants from south of Punjab and Sindh are part of the march. Rana Sultan, a PPP stalwart from Muzaffargarh district, tells The News on Sunday that most of Bilawal’s supporters are the youth. He says other party leaders have done little to mobilise their constituencies. “Sardars and Syeds of Sindh and southern Punjab want to be on the truck with Bilawal. They do not care about anything else. It is time for Bilawal to reorganise the party so that a new leadership can emerge,” he says.
It remains to be seen how the locals and the police will handle this march in Islamabad next week. If the PPP can manage to retain the crowd intact, it is unlikely to leave quickly. However, if the crowd is small, it will not be able to hold onto the capital for too long.
The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad. Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ Email: Hassan.firstname.lastname@example.org