End of the Azadi March

ByDr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam

Designation: is an educationist with wide experience


June 1, 2022

End of the Azadi March

Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam describes a national upheaval

For best part of the last four weeks Pakistan remained in the grip of feverish political activity prominent amongst it was the call for agitation dubbed End of the Azadi March by the PTI.
The heightened tensions caused by quite a long chain of events kept the nation on tenterhooks further exacerbating the intense polarisation within the polity. This constitutional removal of the PTI government set in a chain reaction that resulted in the process of consistent agitation launched by Imran Khan threatening to stage a sit-in demanding early elections. Imran Khan whipped-up frenzy mostly through aggressive and well-planned social media campaign coupled with a series of mass rallies that gave away the kind of covert support he was getting from the sources he was counting on. Nevertheless, it was also clear that the support given to him was dwindling and signs were that they were indicating an end to the agitation. This is a classic example of brinkmanship aimed at obtaining concessions that will slowly come out into public domain.
The chain of events witnessed the PTI marching on Islamabad and reaching the D-Chowk despite the Supreme Court asking for it to stage its protest meeting at an alternative location. The march towards Islamabad lasted for more than 14 hours and finally petered out when the crowds were told to disperse with Imran Khan giving the government a six-day deadline to call elections, failing which he would return to the capital and agitate. After the dispersal of the crowds, main roads in the capital such as the Srinagar Highway and Blue area were also reopened as containers were removed. It was reported that many PTI supporters expressed surprise at the decision of their leader to abruptly end the Azadi March.
Earlier Imran Khan and his supporters reached Islamabad late Wednesday night and broke through the barriers and braved police shelling to enter the Red Zone. While Imran’s convoy that began the journey from Swabi’s Wali Interchange was en route to D-Chowk via the Srinagar Highway, a batch of his party workers and supporters were already present at the planned destination in the face of intense police shelling. Television footage showed smoke rising from the ground and fires in the green belts adjacent to Islamabad’s main roads. It was reported that the PTI supporters had set the fires whereas the claim from the PTI camp was that the fires were a result of police shelling.
The PTI chairman had entered Islamabad in the early hours of Thursday and marched towards D-Chowk, while the federal government authorised the deployment of the army in Red Zone to protect important government buildings. Earlier on Monday, during a brief stopover in Hasan Abdal approximately 50 kilometres away from the capital, Imran Khan reiterated that he and his supporters would not vacate D-Chowk until a date for new elections was announced. The PTI’s march towards the D-Chowk and the shelling of teargas by police took place despite the Supreme Court directives for the former to hold its protest in Islamabad’s H-9 area and orders for the government to not make arrests or use force in connection with the march.
Imran Khan had earlier today arrived at the Wali Interchange in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by helicopter. Footage of Imran arriving at the interchange showed PTI activists converging on the chopper. Later, he departed for Islamabad from the Wali Interchange, from where the PTI tweeted a photo of him waving to supporters atop a truck adorned with party colours. Around 6pm, the main convoy from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which included Imran Khan, was able to enter Punjab from Attock after successfully removing barricades placed by the Punjab government at the Attock Bridge to stop marchers from entering the province. Some prominent PTI leaders also urged supporters to make their way to the capital’s D-Chowk, saying that all containers and blockades on the way had been removed.
Meanwhile, the government approached the Supreme Court seeking contempt proceedings against the PTI Chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan for violating the apex court’s orders with regard to the party’s Azadi March. A five-member bench heard the petition which was filed by Attorney General. The same bench also resumed hearing a petition filed by Islamabad High Court Bar Association president that sought removal of blockades set up to stop the PTI’s Azadi March. On Wednesday, the apex court had ordered the federal government and the PTI to constitute respective negotiating committees and meet at 10pm on Wednesday to finalise modalities for a peaceful and safe conduct of the party’s long march to the capital. However, negotiations were not held as both sides claimed the other had not shown up. The SC’s order had come on IHCBA’s petition which was heard by a three-judge bench consisting of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi.
The entire episode left extremely bitter after-taste and also raised more questions rather than providing answers. A gradually increasing number of rational observers are of the opinion that the political fights are used as political gangsterism that has the potential of cancelling out all advantages of democratic freedoms. In the recent melee both parties behaved with extraordinary roguishness strengthening the expression that almost all decisive echelons of the state apparatus are devoid of balanced assessment of a given situation. It also exhibited the deepening feeling that the state has become the prisoner of ad-hoc policies and it is never prepared for tackling any serious situation. This is a major flaw in the state itself that may prove extremely dangerous for its ability to even manage the day-to-day matters of the country.
While PTI could be put in the dock for furthering the personal vendetta of an unsuccessful cricketer-turned politician the other political groups are equally to be blamed. It was quite obvious that many political parties in the coalition government were of the opinion that the Azadi March did not pose great threat to the government but the vengeful emotion prevalent in the PMLN was bent upon to exact its revenge on the agitationists without realising that little use of force not only preserves their strength but also provides space to the crowds to see the fruitlessness of their efforts and withdraw.
Instead of following the prudent, patient method of handling the situation, the government began a mindless crackdown on the opposition without realising that it was providing an opportunity for resuscitating the PTI and its allied forces. The government mindlessly opened a front in Punjab despite being quite sure that there was hardly any support for PTI there. It was paranoid in undertaking to seal Islamabad as the city was owned by it rubbishing the notion that public opinion must be given a chance to turn against the excesses of mobs running riot in the capital city.
More worrying was the inefficacy of the mediation efforts by the Supreme Court that was actually sabotaged by both the protagonists. It was strange to witness the apex court jumping into the fray and issuing edicts that were not paid any heed to. This act may render such mediation useless in future and this could be a fateful event as in quasi-dictatorial polities judiciary is heavily relied upon to broker serious contentions. TW

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