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Imran Besieged


Present Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘Tehreek-e-Insaf’, along with the followers of Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, had in the tens of thousands laid a months long siege in 2014 of Islamabad against the government of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. While Dr Qadri, a Canada based reformist scholar who founded the ‘Pakistan Awami Tehreek’, had his own reasons to participate in the protest, it was generally believed that the movement was planned and backed by the Pakistan Army. There was much violence involved, with protestors moving into the forbidden ‘Red Zone’ in Islamabad, away from their designated dharna site. This precipitated events that eventually led to the possibly managed electoral win for Imran Khan, who many believe is basically a front man for the Army.
Now, Imran Khan is himself facing a long march that is an attempt to replicate what occurred in 2014. This time it is being led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of the ‘Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’. It is expected to reach Islamabad on 31 October and has the support of the Pakistan People’s Party and the PML-Nawaz. Although it is being touted as a ‘peaceful and democratic’ protest, Rehman has already been using words such a jihad to define the objective of the march.
At a time when Pakistan faces serious economic problems and the restrictive impact of IMF prescribed ‘restorative’ measures, which have instigated a major protest by the trading community across the country, the march poses a major threat to what remains of stability in the country. Already, terrorism based on religious and ethnic differences has ravaged the country, leading to quashing of even legitimate political movements in POK, Baluchistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Karachi and Sindh, which used to be in the forefront of the country’s economy, have declined to a point of no return. There have been all kinds of measures taken to suppress political dissent, including the latest move by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) forbidding TV news anchors to express opinions of their own at talk shows! This is clearly a bid to restrict the ability of some popular anchors to influence public opinion.
The Pakistan Establishment, which is forced to back Imran Khan at the moment, is hoping that the march does not receive the support of the troubled masses and escalate to an unmanageable level. It is an irony that the man projecting himself as the leader of the Muslim Ummah and ‘liberator’ of the Kashmiris is today facing a challenge that will remind him of his actual status – a puppet in the hands of his military masters that could well be discarded if the protestors will settle for nothing less.