ISLAMABAD: A political storm is brewing. Imran Khan is in no mood for any climbdown. He is resolved to go ahead with his plan to paralyse the federal capital on Oct 30, or at a later date. The ruling party, in the meantime, refuses to buckle under pressure. Instead, it’s back to the drawing board to map out a ‘counter strategy’.
Let’s see what options does the PML-N have? First, the government could introduce strict restrictive measures on the pretext of Muharram security to prevent a ‘large-scale assembly’ of PTI supporters in Islamabad. Second, the PML-N might stage political gatherings in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI is in power. And third, the ruling party could try to cash in on rifts within the PTI by wooing its dissidents in an attempt to take the sting out of the rally.
Sources, however, say the PML-N is caught up in a difficult situation insofar as its ‘preventive strategy’ is concerned. “It’s Muharram and security threats are grave. If we take preventive arrangements, it would be seen as a coercive act and the PTI would capitalise on it. And if we don’t ensure stepped-up security, who would be responsible for any untoward incident?” asked a PML-N stalwart who holds an important position in the federal government.
PTI’s provincial lawmaker Sardar Idrees contested the claim. “Security arrangements are no excuse to deprive people of their democratic right to stage a peaceful protest. The PML-N is free to hold political rallies in Peshawar and elsewhere in K-P where security threats are very high. We never stopped them and instead provided them security,” he added.
PTI chief hints at prolonged protest in Islamabad
“Likewise, it’s a responsibility of the federal government to ensure foolproof security in the federal capital. Hundreds of convoys from K-P will be participating in the protest, and they need security.”
Premier Nawaz Sharif’s Adviser Amir Muqam questioned the rationale for PTI’s protest in Muharram when there are serious security threats. “The PTI’s petty political interests should not take precedence over public interests. They are putting the lives of their supporters in danger. We would do our best to provide foolproof security, but some sense should also knock into the heads of Imran Khan & Co. They better grow up and behave in a politically mature way,” Muqam told The Express Tribune.
With regard to second strategy, a PML-N leader from K-P confirmed to The Express Tribune that they were preparing for staging public rallies, corner meetings and related activities as part of the party’s ‘aggressive defence’ strategy to counter the PTI’s much-trumpeted rally. “Offence makes a wise defence,” he said requesting anonymity. “The K-P chapter of PML-N has been asked to roll up sleeves and target the PTI on its home turf.”
Rumours are swirling that Imran’s party might change the date of the Islamabad protest. The PML-N would formulate its counter strategy accordingly. “If they change the date or delay the protest for a few days or weeks, then we will have more time to respond. If they choose an earlier date, we will act immediately,” a source in the PML-N told The Express Tribune. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif might also travel to K-P to attend his party’s rallies.
Sources also told The Express Tribune that the PML-N leadership planned to capitalize on schisms within the PTI. The ruling party is establishing backdoor contacts with dissidents in the PTI in K-P and Punjab. “We exercised this option ahead of PTI’s Raiwind March to seek support of aggrieved PTI leaders against the march but it failed. The option is still open but we are not very hopeful about it,” a source in the PML-N said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2016.
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