ISLAMABAD: In a visible shift from its earlier announced plan to turn Punjab into a battleground, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has begun tamping down its proposed protest campaign against the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led government. The campaign now resembles a mass-contact drive.
Zardari returns to a different role
Under the revised plan, the PPP is planning to hold public gatherings in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan. And these rallies are also conditional to security assurance to its leadership.
Interestingly, the venues for public gatherings in the K-P are in D I Khan and Malakand and not in Peshawar, the K-P’s provincial capital.
Though there are still a few ‘benign’ programmes for Punjab, the PPP has gradually scaled down its earlier plan of aggressive political shows – rallies and protests – in different cities of the province.
The first such activity under what the PPP is tagging a ‘political long-march’ will be a rally led by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari from Lahore to Faisalabad after his return from Dubai.
He will be addressing public gatherings in the cities along the way to Faisalabad.
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After this rally, there will be a lull – at least till the end of this month. Bilawal and his father, the PPP Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, plan to visit the US later this month, the PPP sources said
The PPP had earlier planned to hold public gatherings in Gujranwala, Sahiwal and Faisalabad in January before intensifying its proposed anti-PML-N protest campaign throughout Punjab. This plan has been reduced to only one rally.
“It is the party’s high command that takes final decisions. On our part, we had put forward proposals,” a leader of the PPP Punjab chapter told The Express Tribune. Defining ‘high command’, he hinted that Zardari was still calling the shots in the party. “It is either CEC [Central Executive Committee] or Zardari [who makes a decision in the party]”.
There is a visible shift in the PPP’s policy especially after Zardari’s return from self-exile last month.
The newly-installed Punjab chapter had pinned high hopes from their young chairman, Bilawal, and had been planning aggressive politics against the PML-N, for revival of the party and for their own survival. However, Zardari’s return has dashed their hopes at least for now, insiders say.
Another PPP leader gave a more rational explanation for the sudden change in the party policy. According to him, the party leadership was closely watching the outcome of Panama Papers case before giving a final shape to the party’s policy against the ruling party.
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PPP Punjab President Qamar Zaman Kaira, however, claimed that it would be wrong to say that his party had made any change in its planned protests. “Is the Lahore-Faisalabad rally on January 19 not a protest? What is a protest then?” he questioned.
He said protest movements take time to gain momentum. “To go into aggressive protest mode, you need to mobilise masses and for this, the party has started the process,” he said. At the same time, the PPP is completing its party reorganisation all over the country in general and Punjab in particular.
“A day after January 19 rally, Bilawal will conduct interviews of workers for Faisalabad division. He has already conducted interviews for northern Punjab divisions and district chapters during his stay in Islamabad earlier this week,” Kiara added.
The PPP leadership expects that a possible set back to the PTI in Panamagate case would provide the PPP an opportunity to grab some space from Imran Khan. In such a scenario, the PPP would try to take into its fold both disenchanted PTI leaders as well as electable before the next general elections.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2017.