FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 26

Will Imran’s long march achieve its objectives?

Pakistan is mired in a deep political crisis, with the PTI and the coalition partners pitted against each other in what seems to be a mortal combat. The nation is dangerously polarized into two camps and there are no signs of the country returning to political stability anytime soon. With each passing day, political division is deepening in society and the tolerance level shrinking. Apprehensions have been expressed about the possibility of street clashes between the followers of the two rival groups.

A raging war of competing narratives is on. After losing power through a no-confidence motion, former Prime Minister Imran Khan has created a compelling narrative designed to convince the people that his government was ousted through a foreign conspiracy with the help of local collaborators. He is successfully playing the victim card and attracting large crowds. Imran Khan and his party are making the best possible use of social media to create a groundswell of support in the country. Their propaganda holds a special appeal for the educated urban middle class.

The PML-N and its allies are on the back foot on the political front. As is well known, a large section of the youth relates to the narrative being promoted by the PTI. Imran Khan also pursued a hectic schedule of rallies. After addressing huge public meetings in Lahore, Mianwali, Abbottabad, Peshawar and Multan, he has now announced a march to Islamabad. As per his announcement, the PTI chairman wants the long march to Islamabad to lead to immediate elections. To this end, he has bent all his energies to mobilise mass support and build pressure on the government.

The coalition government is doing its utmost to fight off the offensive from Imran Khan. But the economic figures are a big hurdle for it. The price spiral seems unstoppable. The coalition government faces a number of difficult tasks. If fuel price hike takes place, it will hit the common man hard. An immediate task is to present the next budget. Expenditures are far in excess of income, and financial support promised by friendly nations is yet to materialize. The economic situation is worsening by the day.

The de-seating of ex-PTI members by the Supreme Court has been a big blow to the government, particularly in Punjab where the fate of the newly elected Chief Minister Hamza Sharif hangs in the balance. If he fails to win a vote of confidence he will fall from power. This development is not without its impact on Islamabad where PM Shehbaz Sharif maintains a shaky hold.

The next few months promise to be tough and the government would have to pay a high political cost in the next elections. As a diversionary tactic, the government may resort to legal action against the PTI. It is reported that the government is mulling options to file corruption cases against former PTI ministers. To start with, Farah Gogi is being targeted as an example of PTI bigwigs’ involvement in financial irregularities and corruption.

Imran Khan’s aim is to keep the political pot boiling. His long march can only succeed if he can force an early election. Marching into Islamabad with a very large crowd is only the first step. Once he is inside the federal capital, perhaps the PTI chairman will set up camp near the Red Zone. In all probability it will be a repeat of the PTI dharna staged against the PML-N government in 2014. And much more fiery than the earlier one. But, according to some analysts, something more than a sit-in will be needed to force the government to its knees. But what Imran Khan plans to do next is yet to be revealed.

What will be the government’s response to the PTI’s onslaught? Surely, it will not want the PTI long march to become a dharna with an extended life in the middle of the federal capital. With the two Sharifs once again occupying the seat of power in the capital and Pakistan’s largest province, Imran Khan has been attacking the PML-N for pursuing dynastic politics and infringing the basic rules of participatory democracy. The PTI also keeps hammering the theme of ‘corruption’ and ‘foreign conspiracy’.

The challenge faced by the government is not an easy one. Emotions are running high. In the charged atmosphere, the PTI is playing its cards well by arousing its supporters and then cashing in on their anger against the ouster of their leader from the top office.

Political pundits and analysts are of the opinion that elections are the only way out of the cul-de-sac the country has stumbled into. But there are differences of opinion on the issue among the constituent parties of the government. As a result, uncertainty is deepening with each passing day, and the economy is on a ventilator.