The anti-government coalition of the opposition parties in Pakistan, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) ended its first phase of protests in 2020 at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore and termed it as the ‘final blow’ to bring down the Pakistan Tehree-e-Insaaf Government led by Imran Khan. However the Lahore ‘Jalsa’ failed to yield the desired results and the PML-N failed to deliver in Punjab that is considered to be the stronghold of the party. The second phase of PDM protests have been announced the highlight being, the Long march to Islamabad. However, the morale of the PDM is low. Many members of the PDM have oppose the idea of resignations from the National and Provincial assemblies which was the supposedly next step of the PDM after the Lahore Jalsa.
Cracks started appearing in the Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Islami (F) and anti Maulana Fazl-Ur-Rehman voices have grown stronger. At the same time, the Pakistan government has sharpened its counter strategy as Prime Minister Imran Khan underlined that he is ready to hold talks with PDM on any issue except NRO; minus Fazl-Ur- Rehman and Maryam Nawaz as they do not hold any office. The final blow to the PDM was the arrest of PML-N stalwart Khawaja Mohammad Asif by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after the PML-N meeting in Islamabad in “assets beyond known sources of income case”.
To further pressurize the establishment, the PDM has for the first time explicitly after the latest meeting on New Years’ day hinted that the long march to Islamabad will be actually a long march to the Pakistan Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi (“long to Rawalpindi”) if Imran Khan does not tender his resignation. For the time being, the PDM has given 31 January as the deadline for the PTI government to quit; after which PDM has resolved to intensify the protests, by marching towards Rawalpindi and holding demonstrations outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and NAB. Maulana Fazl-Ur-Rehman, the head of PDM stated, their target of criticism will now be the army establishment which set up the fake Imran Khan government. PDM respects the army and generals, but now they have to step back and focus on their constitutional responsibilities.
However in a blow to the PML-N, the government has decided to cancel Nawaz Sharif’s passport after its expiry in February 2021. The PTI government has argued that it would render him stateless and force him to either apply for asylum in the UK, fly to another country (Saudi Arabia or Qatar) or come back to Pakistan and face the courts in Pakistan. Some analysts argue that the cancellation of Mr. Sharif’s passport will render him ‘stateless’, the fact remains that he is a Pakistani national and the deprivation of his passport simply limits his international travel.
After the latest Lahore meeting, the PDM appears to be conceding to the Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s suggestion to take the democratic path, as it decided to participate in the upcoming by-elections. It is to be noted that the by-elections to eight constituencies of National and Provincial assemblies were deferred because of the coronavirus pandemic. According to ECP, this will pave the way for the completion of the Electoral College for the upcoming Senate elections. Some opposition members are also hinting that the PDM may be in for a long haul in the battle and that this year might not yet see the end of Imran Khan’s government. The bottom line is the high inflation and the perilous state of economy and Imran Khan’s open confession that the first one and half years of the government went in understanding issues might stir disaffection among the public. They may come onto the streets and lodge protests without the support of political parties.
Amid the political brinkmanship, the Imran Khan government, in a rare display of fighting against terrorism; has arrested Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, one of the masterminds of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks after 5 years of bail. This is to only to impress the Paris based anti-terror funding watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF); whose plenary is scheduled to take place next month to decide if Pakistan remains in the ‘grey-list’ or is further down-graded to the “black-list”.
Script: Dr. Zainab Akhter, Analyst on Pakistan