Hamza Hasan in Islamabad
The current confrontation between the Government of Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaf (PTI) headed by cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan, is headed towards an expected conflagration.
PTI has asked its workers to gather in front of the country’s Parliament to protest against the incumbent Government on November 30. The protests could be decisive as it could open inquiries into the alleged vote rigging in the May 2013 national elections. The results of the inquiry could force the Prime Minister to step down requiring holding of fresh national elections.
There is tremendous pressure on the PTI to hold a large public demonstration on the said date because of the absence of the Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT), Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s political party, which remained steadfast in its demand for the ouster of Sharif until the last week of October, after which it decided to end its protest in front of the Parliament to focus on demonstrations and rallies in other parts of the country.
During the joint protests by the PAT and PTI, the former’s workers remained a more disciplined force against the state machinery. The PAT’s workers remained on the protest site throughout the day and lived in tents during the night in spite of inclement weather and continued police presence; the PTI crowd kept changing as Islamabad locals would swell the gatherings considerably at night when people returned from work and were free to take part in political demonstrations. It would require considerable effort from the party’s grassroots networks in Islamabad and Punjab to make the November 30 gathering a large one.
The Government is making considerable efforts to make the November 30 protest unsuccessful. The initial steps to muster support for the Government from coalition allies in the Parliament are underway. The Prime Minister appears confident after securing a cross-party support inside the Parliament and normalisation of civil-military relations. This is evident from the fact that the Government is not calling joint sessions of the Parliament and the Prime Minister is not cancelling any foreign trips in anticipation of the uncertain political outcome of the protests.
Furthermore, the administration in Islamabad is also considering outlawing protests in the high security ‘Red Zone’ in Islamabad which includes the Diplomatic Enclave and other Government buildings. It is expected that these areas will be secured by the Pakistan Army.
The November 30 protest in Islamabad is a renewed attempt by PTI to reinvigorate its movement in the Federal Capital. The PTI’s main protest in Islamabad had begun to lose steam; however, the party managed to gather large crowds in Punjab and Karachi where it held a series of public gatherings against the Government, starting in October.
The party plans to organise a public rally in the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) heartland in Larkana on November 21 where it hopes to garner support of various groups that have reservations against the governance vacuum left by the PPP. The extent of support that the PTI can gather in the PPP’s heartland is yet to be seen, considering that the party’s major support is largely provided by the urban bourgeoisie in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The major concern for the Government in the current political scenario is if the PTI decides to resign from the provincial assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to start a larger protest movement against the Government. Currently, the party is being criticised for speaking against a system which it forms a major part of through its provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Government officials in Islamabad believe that PTI workers will not be allowed to march freely into Islamabad on November 30: this is supported by the fact that a large population of protesters will come from Punjab, the provincial stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). This is yet to be seen, but the state of confrontation which may erupt into violent street protests on the date of the rally is all too palpable in the federal capital.
Hamza Hasan is a Development Consultant based in Islamabad.