Situationer: Is PTI ‘in two minds’ over march ultimatum?

Web Desk – June 01, 2022

AFTER its aborted long march last week, the formerly ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has decided to approach the Supreme Court to seek protection against any possible government action against it before announcing the date for another protest, and a petition in this regard is expected to be filed in the court in the next couple of days.

From the contents of the news conference addressed by PTI’s senior leader Fawad Chaudhry in Islamabad on Tuesday, it may be inferred that besides the long march issue, the party wants to place every matter before the Supreme Court — from the appointment of new members of the Election Commission of Pakistan to the election of Hamza Shehbaz as the Punjab chief minister.

The party leaders have already announced that they may challenge the recently-passed Elections (Amendment) Act 2022 and the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Act 2021 in the apex court.

Moving the SC, according to some political observers, may not only provide an opportunity to PTI chairman Imran Khan to delay the announcement of another long march, but would also allow the party leadership some time to put its house in order in the wake of reports of the supposed non-committal attitude of a number of party leaders and lawmakers during last week’s march.

Some PTI critics believe it is a face-saving move by Mr Khan after his failure to mobilise the masses on his narrative of a foreign conspiracy behind the ouster of his government, and some of them are even of the opinion that the PTI, in fact, wants to use the apex court as a launch pad for its future political strategy.

Addressing a gathering in Murree on Tuesday, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz also alleged that after getting a cold response from the establishment, Mr Khan was now banking on the SC for his future adventures. Alleging that the former prime minister was now looking for another Justice Saqib Nisar, she said Imran was begging the judiciary to make his protest successful.

While abruptly ending the ‘Haqeeqi Azadi March’ on May 26, Mr Khan had given a six-day deadline to the government to announce elections or he would launch another march on Islamabad. Later, speaking at news conferences in Peshawar, where he has been staying for nearly two weeks, Mr Khan first claimed he had to call off the protest as the party was not prepared and later said he did so to avoid possible bloodshed after finding out that some of the marchers were carrying arms.

Mr Khan’s revelation has provided an opportunity to the ruling coalition leaders, under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, to justify their decision to use force to stop the Azadi March and their accusations that the PTI chief wanted civil war in the country.

While Mr Khan’s statement was still under scrutiny by politicians and journalists, Khyber Pakhtun­khwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan added fuel to fire — while addressing a lawyers convention in Peshawar he said that when his party chief would give a call for another march, he would use KP’s “force”.

These remarks of the PTI leadership remained the topic of discussion in a meeting of the federal cabinet, presided over by PM Sharif before departing for Turkey on a three-day official visit.

After the meeting, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah categorically declared that the government will not allow the PTI to hold another long march, come what may.

“I am warning the PTI against the announcement of another long march. I want to make it clear, let them come and I’ll see how they cross barriers this time,” tweeted the minister.

There are reports that the Punjab government has already decided to put in place unprecedented security measures — more stringent than those made during the May 25 march — if the party decides to hold another protest rally. It has been decided to “double the layer” of heavy freight shipping containers filled with sand and concrete to block the roads leading to Islamabad. Besides, police have been asked to submit its demands for the required containers and other tools, including electric welding and razor wires. As per reports, this time, any loopholes or mistakes committed during last week’s long march will not be repeated while adopting security measures.

During his press conference, Fawad Chaudhry came up with a strange defence of Mr Khan’s statement regarding the armed participants, when he said the PTI chief was, in fact, referring to the “armed personal security guards” of the VVIP dignitaries, including the KP chief minister, AJK prime minister and the GB chief minister, participating in the march.

The former information minister also evaded a question regarding reports that the party leadership was angry over some KP ministers who slipped from the rally and preferred to stay at the luxurious KP House in Islamabad at a time when the party workers were facing alleged police brutalities in the capital’s Red Zone.

Meanwhile, all eyes will again be on the SC, as the PTI is expecting some relief, whereas the government is hopeful that the court will not give a free hand to the PTI this time following the events that took place on May 25 and the recent statements of Mr Khan and the KP chief minister.

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