Pakistani opposition intensifies movement, but still may fall short of tilting scales

Just as Lahore was getting ready on Sunday for the sixth power show of the 11-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) opposition alliance at the Minar-i-Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Instagram, posting photos with his dogs Sheru and Tiger on a sunny Sunday morning at the sprawling garden of his residence in Islamabad's Bani Gala

Dec 15, 2020
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Just as Lahore was getting ready on Sunday for the sixth power show of the 11-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) opposition alliance at the Minar-i-Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Instagram, posting photos with his dogs Sheru and Tiger on a sunny Sunday morning at the sprawling garden of his residence in Islamabad's Bani Gala. Only a short while ago, in another Insta post, he had recommended "History of the Pathans" as the book of the month to the Pakistanis.

Despite trying hard to maintain a relaxed demeanor, Khan should be worried that his countrymen are confronting runaway inflation, unemployment and massive corruption. The simmering dissent has now transitioned into a full-scale movement, which appears to be getting stronger by the day.

After Lahore, the PDM is eyeing another assemblage in Islamabad - on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, where the General Headquarters of Pakistan's powerful military are located. While Imran is the visible target, the PDM's real enemy is the military, which has faced many challenges but has so far still remained on the top of Pakistan's power tree.

"Chains of oppression are broken... Your victory is near, Islamabad, we are coming," said Pakistan People's Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari while addressing the Lahore jalsa.

"They have pushed the country into unprecedented inflation and unemployment. Imran's cronies are minting money out of the wheat and sugar crisis. He was installed into power so that he could be easily dictated," added Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from London.

"If people's rights are continued to be abrogated then the national unity cannot remain intact," warned Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) boss Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

"Ever since Covid-18 (PM Imran) has formed government, sugar, wheat, electricity and people's livelihood have been quarantined," fired PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz.

A lot more was said by several other leaders, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) head Shah Awais Noorani and Balochistan National Party's Akhtar Mengal. But the kaptaan of 'naya Pakistan' lives in his own world - thanks mainly to the blessings from the country's military - and can obviously instead focus on his dogs and books.

Maybe for not too long now.

As the opposition gears up for the final assault - a march to capital Islamabad in the last week of January - it will be foolhardy for Khan to ignore the growing unrest in the country.

"Selectors, listen, you will have to listen to the public's voice, you will have to accept their decision, the time for dialogue is gone. Now there will be a long march. Stop making phone calls, stop trying to establish contacts. No differences can be created between us, we will reach Islamabad and chase your puppet out. Once he is gone, then there can be dialogue," said Bilawal.

While both Imran Khan and his ministerial colleagues like information and broadcasting minister Shibli Faraz have termed the opposition's public gathering in Lahore a "flop show" - an obvious reaction - the alliance has already gone into a huddle, discussing the strategy for the next move. The PDM leadership got together over lunch in Lahore's Raiwind today to fine tune its planning for the long march, assembly resignations and protests.

With Sharif, the three-time PM, calling on to get freedom from the "fake regime" running the country under "hijacked democracy", the opposition alliance also needs to take a call on its stand against the main 'selectors'- the country's military. Sharif has during the past rallies repeatedly said that the Pakistani Army generals are responsible for the poor political situation in the country.

"The task of initiating the Kargil war, which witnessed the deaths of brave Pakistan soldiers, and disgraced Pakistan in front of the world, was not done by the army, but by a few generals. They threw not only the army but the country and community in the war in such a place that nothing could be achieved from it," he had said during PDM's rally in Quetta.

It is to tackle such outbursts that Imran Khan has selected motormouth Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as the new interior minister.

Addressing the media in Islamabad today, Rashid said that "incompetent convicts and fugitives talk irresponsibly about the armed forces" and that the opposition leaders are spending billions of rupees on meetings and rallies to "save the money they have looted in the first place."

Another minister from Imran's cabinet - minister for communications and postal services Murad Saeed - said that the PDM leadership has adopted an "anti-Pakistan narrative" to protect their personal interests.

"(Former premier) Nawaz Sharif, who is an absconder and sitting in London, is trying to malign the national institutions for his personal gains. (PkMAP chief) Mahmood Khan Achakzai is trying to provoke the people against Urdu language," Saeed was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune.

The full-blown war between the political parties has only deepened the crisis in Pakistan which is already reeling under a double whammy - the Covid-19 pandemic and China taking over the country from Gilgit to Gwadar.

As Akhtar Mengal said yesterday: "If you want to save this country then you have to struggle against khalai makhlooq (alien)."

While the anti-establishment movement gathers momentum, it may be some distance away from shifting the balance of power in its favour. Nevertheless, Imran Khan's demonstration of his opulent lifestyle cannot hide the feeling that he is, right now, sitting on top of a volcano which could incarcerate him in the days to come.

(Under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

(IANS)

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