D for democracy

March 20, 2022

Following the Awami March by the PPP, the political atmosphere in Islamabad has changed.

D for democracy

The Awami Long March organised by Pakistan Peoples Party has lit up political activity in the Capital. The situation in Islamabad has started turning steamy in its wake. The marchers’ entry into the city coincided with the submission of a no-confidence move against Prime Minister Imran Khan.

It was the longest political procession that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has led thus far. The marchers travelled alongside him for 10 days to reach D-Chowk in Islamabad from Mazar-i-Quaid in Karachi.

Musa Khokhar, the central Punjab president of the People’s Students Federation (PSF), and his team stayed behind in Islamabad after the march. Khokar tells The News on Sunday that they are no strangers to threats and difficult times. “[Former] President Asif Ali Zardari has rightly condemned the raid on the Parliament Lodges. We have marched against all means of suppression,” he says.

Mian Saud, vice president of People’s Students Federation for central Punjab, said it was the longest march that he had participated in. “We were well disciplined. For overnight stays, arrangements were made in various cities along the route.” he said.

“A committee was formed for the distribution of food and other supplies. The Punjab gave the chairman a warm welcome and we were joined by many people. After 10 days, we reached Islamabad and everything was managed well,” Saud said.

In Islamabad, political opponents of the PPP made fun of Bilawal Bhutto’s mistakes as he addressed the crowd in Urdu, giving rise to a debate about the importance of language when it comes to running a state.

When memes were being made of his sentence, which is: “Kanpen tang jati hain”, it was also argued by some people on social media that Urdu should not be the language of mass communication. They argued that political leaders should deliver speeches in their native languages, which may be translated into Urdu and English.

Even Prime Minister Imran Khan mentioned “Kanpen tang jati hain” in his speech. Gendered slurs, fanning a misplaced concept of masculinity, were also hurled at Bilawal. This begs the question: what does gender have to do with statecraft?

Fear of terrorism loomed over the march itself, and its aftermath. Mid-way through the march, Islamic State-Khurasan (IS-K) carried out an attack at a mosque in Qissa Khwani Bazaar of Peshawar. IS-K is based in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are after it since their takeover of Kabul.

A couple of days after the attack, which was condemned by the UN Security Council in a resolution, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police issued an alert saying that 20 terrorists had been dispatched to Pakistan from Kuner province of Afghanistan.

Some of the marchers, especially from Sindh, walked to the nearby Faisal Mosque, close to which Ziaul Haq is buried. They showed disrespect to the grave. Later, Bilawal Bhutto expressed annoyance at their behaviour.

The PPP has been hit the hardest by terrorists and this situation sent off ripples of fear and unrest among its stalwarts. With regard to security concerns, Musa Khkokar says, “After Peshawar attack, we were treated badly by police in Gujranwala. They almost sealed us inside the venue for our gathering. Walkthrough gates were installed almost one and a half kilometers from the venue. There was little concern for the security and protection of marchers.”

From Karachi, a team of young party workers was given the task to keep order. “After Lahore, we announced from the stage that all car riders should stay in their vehicles while speeches are delivered from the main truck at small stops. Young people from the Punjab also assisted us and helped us carry forward our message to the masses as we were having some language barriers,” says Rana Sultan, a member of the organising committee.

Time was of the essence and despite all efforts, the march reached Islamabad later than scheduled. Since the entry was late, the march did not make a lengthy stop before D-Chowk. Food was arranged for the marchers by local party workers including Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar.

Some of the marchers, especially from Sindh, walked to the nearby Faisal Mosque, close to which Ziaul Haq is buried. They showed disrespect to the grave. Later Bilawal Bhutto expressed annoyance at such behaviour.

Speaking at D-Chowk, Bilawal Bhutto dared Imran Khan to leave the Prime Minister’s Office and face the public. Seasoned PPP leaders like Qamar Kaira and Pervez Ashraf accompanied him.

The events that followed this march are going to have a huge impact on future politicking in Islamabad. Submission of the no-confidence move and a police raid on the Parliament Lodges are rare incidents that came right on the heels of this march.

Now the prime minister himself has announced a jalsa at D-Chowk on March 27. His supporters consider D-Chowk as their bastion for political battles.

City machinery is being mobilised to make arrangements for that jalsa and the youth are being accessed in educational institutions in this respect, under the guise of different government projects.

As prime minister Benazir Bhutto had made arrangements for the military parade at the venue facing the Parliament House on national days. After her assassination in Rawalpindi, mega screens were installed at D-Chowk to which jiyalas were glued to watch her last rituals telecast from Garhi Khuda Bukhash. Gen Pervez Musharraf had discontinued the D-Chowk parades during his tenure.

After the announcement by Imran Khan about his jalsa at D-Chowk, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has ordered foolproof security for Islamabad for the March 23 parade and the OIC foreign minister’s conference. The fat is in the fire.

A takeaway from the PPP march may be that for political movements to get their message across it is not necessary to block roads and occupy public places for long periods and cause inconvenience to the public.

The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.   Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ  Email: Hassan.shehzad@iiui.edu.pk

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