FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 27

Imran Khan trapped?

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan suddenly called off his protest after giving a six-day ultimatum to the coalition government to announce fresh elections. An abrupt end to a threatening march is being seen differently by the government, opposition, media and political activists.

According to many analysts, the march was abolished after the establishment forced the government and the PTI leadership to sit together on the negotiating table and reach a consensus on fresh elections. It is said that most leaders in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were already in favour of new elections. Reportedly, three PTI leaders were flown to Islamabad from Peshawar for talks with the coalition government, with instructions that the present system would be wrapped up if they failed to reach a consensus, because there was a serious threat of deterioration of the law and order if the confrontation between the government and the opposition continued for a few more days. It is said the “threat” of wrapping up the system worked and both sides reached a consensus to dissolve the assemblies. According to unconfirmed reports making the rounds on social media, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has signed a summary to dissolve the National Assembly and all provincial assemblies and sent it to President Arif Alvi and the assemblies would be dissolved before Imran Khan’s deadline expires.

According to unconfirmed reports, the PTI chairman had also sought national and international guarantees for it, which were provided to him. However, he has rejected the impression that he had called off his march after a deal. A day after abolishing the march, he told a press conference that he had feared violence and bloodshed between the police and his activists and again warned of a better “organised” march after the deadline because he thought his party was not ready for police violence it had to face in Islamabad, Punjab and Sindh. He believes the situation will not be as unfavourable for his next rally after a Supreme Court verdict, which allowed his party to hold a march in Islamabad and ordered the government not to use force against the party.

On the other, many analysts and even PTI activists believe Imran Khan has been trapped by the government. It is said the government has not assured him of early elections and it plans to complete its remaining term till August 2013. Analysts sympathetic to the government claim the march had been successfully blocked by the use of force and violence through the police, but the Supreme Court of Pakistan thwarted the efforts by allowing the PTI to hold a rally in Islamabad. The court, accepting the party’s right to protest, also restrained the government from arresting its leaders and workers. It also instructed the authorities not to make “unnecessary use of force” and not raid homes and offices of or arrest other PTI leaders and workers and ordered the immediate release of detained lawyers as well as those arrested under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance 1960, adding that those involved in “heinous crimes” and nominated in FIRs would be dealt with by the high courts. The SC bench, in its order, said it hoped that the top PTI leadership would also tell party supporters to not take the law into their own hands. The court issued the orders after the PTI had assured it that its workers would not cause damage to public and private properties. Allowing the protest on Srinagar Highway, the court said the flow of traffic must not be affected, the citizens not troubled and the protesters should remain peaceful.

Earlier, the government had not allowed the party to hold its rally in Islamabad and warned it of serious consequences and use of force, if the state writ was challenged. Addressing a press conference after a cabinet meeting ahead of the march, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said the government would not allow the PTI to spread “chaos and disorder” in the guise of the march. “They will be stopped at any cost so they cannot propagate their misleading agenda. These people have moved from abuse to bullets. The PTI leadership had gathered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was planning to use the province’s resources and personnel to attack the federation. They want to come as a mob that has no legal or constitutional status. This cannot be allowed,” he asserted.

True to its words, the government used every possible way to stop the PTI rally. The local administration in various cities set up roadblocks to prevent the movement of long march participants. All bridges and roads leading to Islamabad, including Motorways, the GT Road and Highways, were blocked. All exams were postponed and businesses closed. Thousands of PTI workers were arrested in Punjab in Sindh. They were also brutally beaten in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The country has not seen heavier teargas shelling in its history. However, the PML-N-led government failed to stop PTI activists from reaching near D-Chowk despite the heavy shelling and setting up heavy barriers.

It is clear that Imran Khan has won the first round. However, his activists fear he has been trapped by the government. The government would not have increased the prices of petroleum products by massive Rs30/litre to revive the IMF package, if it was serious about holding new elections. After announcing the hike, Finance Minister Miftah Imsail announced that the coalition government would complete its remaining term till August 2013. In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has also ruled out early elections. It means the country will face a really serious situation in the coming days.