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Thu. December 08, 2022
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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

The Haqeeqi Azadi Long March: Pakistan in Turmoil

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Pakistan is heading for turmoil in the coming days. Today, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is leading an anti-government long march toward Islamabad. Imran had earlier said that the protest march will continue for another 10 months till the date for general elections is announced.

Before this announcement, the plan was to reach the federal capital by November 4. It was later revised to November 8-9 and then again revised to November 11. This is the PTI chair's second march toward Islamabad after he was ousted earlier in April this year through a no-confidence motion.

In a shocking development, Imran Khan narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on November 3, 2022, day 7 of the Long March party’s long march in Punjab’s Wazirabad.

On November 4, 2022, day 8 of the march, Imran Khan said that the country’s biggest political party was being pushed against the wall and attempts were being made to kill him. He further stated that conspirators decided to kill him as they were wary of his long march and added that he had received reports about his assignation plot from the government officials beforehand.

Surprisingly, Imran alleges that the men who had planned the attack are Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and Major General Faisal Naseer from the Internal Wing, ISI. He demands that these three men should be ousted from their posts. His demand isn’t likely to be accepted and therefore Imran Khan has now reached a point of no return. 

Today, Imran Khan is riding a national popular wave, unlike anyone before. Notwithstanding his immense popular standing, he is unlikely to stage a political comeback. Given the immense power of the military establishment in Pakistan, a direct challenge will most likely be somehow neutralized. However, this won't translate into strengthening the country’s hybrid system, which is now failing miserably.

Pakistan is a complex mess because of its weak political system, poor leadership, and decades of bad governance. It is heading for a deepening political and economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the country is facing acute political polarization and uncertainty creating further instability. Given Pakistan’s immense military power and strategic location, a further weakening will create regional instability attracting possible foreign intervention. Tense days ahead for the country, surely.

Earlier, on the third day, the long march stopped at Kamoke on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road. The PTI claims that local people are gathering at designated points, adding that according to estimation 1-1.5 million people will reach Islamabad on Friday. The PTI planned to stage a sit-in only and had no plans of approaching the so-called Red Zone, which houses the federal government and other national institutions. Despite, the Sharif Government's rhetoric, a peaceful march can indeed take place. However, indications are that the march will be stopped in Rawat on the outskirts of Islamabad, and it will not be allowed to commence onwards to the designated F9 park inside the city.

Surprisingly, the Haqeeqi Azadi Long March is gathering a significant public response. The people are pouring onto the streets, as never before.

As expected, the Sharif Government has started the backdoor talk with PTI through intermediaries. Meanwhile, President Arif Alvi was playing an essential role in the negotiations between the PTI and the Sharif Government. Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi confirmed backdoor talks were indeed taking place. During the backdoor talks the date for general elections was discussed, adding the second round of negotiations will be held tomorrow.

What is the meaning of these events?

Imran Khan’s vague Haqeeqi Azadi narrative calling for “real freedom for the people” of Pakistan from the Sharif Government was labeled as thoroughly corrupt and backed by the United States. The Long March will somehow attain this objective through a popular soft revolution, which if thwarted, can also turn into a revolution. The rhetoric though ambiguous is selling to people in increasing numbers. The people are fed up with the weakened economy, IMF conditionalities, ineffectiveness of state services, high inflation, and poor governance. The public despair is creating a wave of sympathy for the PTI’s Long March. The murder of Arshad Shareef, a prominent journalist, has somehow provided PTI sympathizers with an opportunity to criticize the Military directly. Yet, the PTI is also negotiating with the Military directly, bypassing the Sharif Government.

Meanwhile, the Military’s open criticism of Imran Khan has created more distrust among the opponents of the Sharif government. This is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. Imran’s continued criticism of the Military’s interference in the politics of Pakistan has become more stringent. He is riding a popular wave, as never before. 

Interesting times in Pakistan. Shocking presser earlier by DGISI and DG ISPR trying to malign IK and somehow thwart the PTI march from Lahore. The march is a crawl to Islamabad stretched for several days, with a diversion along the way. All planned to pressurize the military for holding early general elections. Will the planned march succeed?

Dr. Sohail Mahmood is an Independent Political Analyst based in Chapel Hill NC.

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