The test of Nawaz Sharif’s political acumen has begun
“Al-wida Al-wida, Nawaz Sharif Al-wida” (Goodbye Nawaz Sharif) chanted a charged crowd of people gathered outside Imran Khan’s residence at Zaman Park as he addressed them for the final time before setting off for his Azadi march. He said he would not return from the capital without Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.
“Go Nawaz Go” screamed the workers of Pakistan Muslim League-Q, gathered outside the residence of their party leaders, before they began their march. PML-Q, a party otherwise largely passive, has appeared as the frontline ally of Pakistan Awami Tehreek in its agenda of bringing about the ‘revolution’.
And “Pak fouj Zindabad” was the final slogan raised by Tahir ul Qadri in the last of many press conferences held by him before he set out on his ‘Inqilab march’. He said his revolution would fold up the current system and enforce the constitution in its true spirit.
Both marches started on the same day, from the same place, for the same destination, with one primary purpose: removal of the current government. Will they be successful or will Nawaz Sharif, for once, be able to politically defuse a movement aiming at his premature departure is a question only time can answer.
Both marches started on the same day, from the same place, for the same destination, with one primary purpose: removal of the current government.
The turmoil which seems to have escalated quickly is actually largely a mess of PML-N’s own making. The government’s constant blunders along the road abetted in building up the opposition it is facing today. It started with PTI’s allegations of rigging in the 2013 elections. After the government turned a deaf ear for over one year on the demand of auditing the ‘famous four’ constituencies, PTI decided to increase the pressure. The political temperature, however, cooled down upon the commencement of military operation in Waziristan and even though PTI had been building momentum for the long march through its rallies, it called off its Bahawalpur jalsa and the announcement of the march after the operation initiated. However, it revoked its decision, and announced 14th August to be the D-day, after the aggression of Punjab Police in the model town incident of 17th June, which claimed 14 lives.
As PTI’s Azadi march and PAT’s Inqilab march reached Islamabad, people waited with an inherent feeling of uncertainty to see their leaders once again gather to determine their fate.
“The tension can only be defused if the political leadership reaches an agreement acceptable to all the parties”, said Hassan Askari Rizvi, prominent media analyst.
However, if both PAT and PTI are not ready to concede to anything less than the prime minister’s resignation, a political agreement is a virtual impossibility. The breakthrough, as always, will come from somewhere else.
“If the deadlock continues, the army will have to intervene at some point”, added Rizvi.
The government has been trying hard to give an impression of a complete understanding with the military leadership. From Independence night ceremonies to the Ziarat residency visit, the prime minister has been seen together with the army chief in all his latest public appearances with a clear message: we are on the same page. But the situation in capital, as we know, can change quickly.
“Either the government and the marchers have reached a deal and the situation will defuse peacefully or there is a complete disagreement and something untoward may happen”, said Ayesha Siddiqa, political analyst and author of the bestseller Military Inc.
The government has been trying hard to give an impression of a complete understanding with the military leadership.
Siddiqa drew two possible scenarios. “The latter case leads to the possibility of military intervention”, she continued, the extent of which will depend on the gravity of the situation.
For Hassan Askari Rizvi the key word here is “violence”. He believes nothing will be more inviting for the GHQ boys more than disruption of peace and order. And, in the latest act of shooting his own foot, PML-N did manage to induce violence in the situation. A group of N-league workers attacked the PTI caravan while it was passing through Gujranwala. The enraged aggressors hurled stones at the vehicle of PTI chief Imran Khan and some injuries were also reported. “These are the kind of incidents that incite Martial Laws” said Sheikh Rasheed in a TV beeper.
Certainly, these are the kind of acts that will have a different connotation, and a different aftermath, in the capital.
“If PTI and PAT manage to stage the sit-in for four to five days; they will be successful in building up some serious pressure and will succeed in achieving some major demands”, said Rizvi.
While Qadri’s recent history of the long march does not tell a very successful story, it is Imran Khan, who has asked Nawaz to ‘get his resignation ready’, whom many are calling the key player. If the numbers are held for some days, it will certainly be hard for the government to maintain the status-quo.
In 1992, Benazir Bhutto launched a long march against Nawaz Sharif’s government, which she claimed was formed after rigging in 1990 polls and had become the epitome of corruption. However, the march was successfully curbed by the Sharif government using state power. Many PPP leaders were arrested; some tortured and many PPP workers neutralised using police. Nawaz managed to defuse the 1992 long march using force. But he needs to fathom the actuality of the present situation, and quickly. Today, he is up against a different opposition, in a different time. In twenty-first century, politicians find political solutions, and the sooner he finds one the better for him.