ISLAMABAD/LAHORE/KARACHI.: Despite assuring the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) of their participation in its ‘Azadi march’ during a meeting of the joint opposition’s Rahbar Committee a day earlier, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are apparently still in two minds about joining the anti-government movement as both parties in their respective huddles on Wednesday were unable to reach a clear-cut decision.
Separately, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has announced that he was changing the date of his party’s anti-government march to Islamabad from October 27 to October 31. His party will now organise rallies to express solidarity with the people of occupied Kashmir on Oct 27 – which is being observed as a ‘black day’ by the government over India’s atrocities in the disputed territory.
PML-N leaders held a meeting of their central executive committee in Lahore chaired by party president Shehbaz Sharif.
They remained divided over the ‘Azadi march’, with some proposing a ‘token participation’ while others suggesting asking the JUI-F to share the details of its anti-government movement plan before going ahead with the move.
Sources said the final decision about the PML-N’s participation in the long march would be taken on Thursday (today) during Shehbaz’s meeting with the party’s supreme leader, Nawaz Sharif, at Kot Lakhpat Jail.
Ahsan Iqbal, who represents the party in the Rahbar committee, briefed the participants of the meeting about his talks with the leaders of other opposition parties about the long march.
According to the sources, several party leaders expressed their reservations over the timing of the JUI-F’s rally.
Some leaders suggested joining forces with the JUI-F in its march to ensure its success while others remained skeptical of its endgame.
A few of them suggested that the senior leaders of the party could participate in the march without involving the activists, who could be told to take part in the protest later if the matters proceeded in the desired direction.
Others suggested that the party leadership should ask Fazl about his party’s strategy. A PML-N leader on the condition of anonymity told The Express Tribune, that if the ‘Azadi march’ failed despite the participation of all opposition parties, it would be a major victory for the government.
The sources said Shehbaz did not appreciate the idea of the party’s full-scale participation in the long march and was more interested in voices suggesting a limited role.
The PPP held a meeting of its core committee chaired by party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Karachi.
Addressing the media after the meeting, Bilawal reiterated that his party backed the long march. “Staging a sit-in is Maulana’s [Fazl] democratic and constitutional right and we fully support that,” he added.
He said the Sindh government would facilitate the JUI-F in making its ‘Azadi march’ successful. The provincial government will ensure that the marchers from Sindh do not face any difficulties in their journey towards Islamabad.
“We are not aware of the schedule of the Azadi march yet. Our leaders will welcome the participants of the march in their respective areas,” Bilawal said.
“We still don’t believe in the politics of staging sit-ins, but now that the PTI government is continuing to ignore parliament and oppressing political rivals, we might consider taking extreme measures.”
Highlighting the need for the opposition parties to stand united, the PPP chairman criticised the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for the “economic persecution” of the masses.
The PPP leaders who attended the meeting included Yousaf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Farhatullah Babar, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Senator Sherry Rehman, Saleem Mandviwala, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Syed Naveed Qamar, Dr Nafisa Shah, Ali Madad Jatak, Senator Rehman Malik, Chaudhry Manzoor Hussain, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Manzoor Hussain Wassan, Shazia Marri, Saeed Ghani, Nasir Husain Shah and Waqar Mehdi.
Change of date
The JUI-F made the decision to change the date of its long march during a meeting of its senior leaders presided over by Fazl. The participants of the meeting included Senator Maulana Atta-ur-Rehman, Allama Rashid Soomro, Maulana Saeed Yousaf and Abdullah Khilji.
The participants of the meeting reviewed the arrangements for the party’s rally. The leaders maintained that police were harassing party activists prior to the anti-government movement.
Fazl told party activists and supporters to peacefully march on Islamabad and avoid being part of any negative propaganda.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Fazl said rallies from across the country staged to express solidarity with Kashmiris would converge on the federal capital on Oct 31.
Referring to the JUI-F’s ‘Azadi march’, Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Wednesday noted that no sit-in could be staged in the federal capital without the authorities’ permission.
His remarks came while hearing a petition challenging the long march.
Petitioner Hafiz Ahtesham, a resident of Islamabad, had asked the court earlier this week that the participants of JUI-F’s sit-in should be limited to an allocated place in the capital fixed by the IHC for protests and sit-ins.
“JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has announced a long march for October for which he has not sought any permission,” the petitioner told the court, adding that such protests affected the routine life of the residents of Islamabad.
“The IHC has allocated Democracy Park in Islamabad for protests. The Supreme Court had also issued clear instructions while hearing the Faizabad sit-in case,” he said.
Justice Minallah observed that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had been asked to seek permission from the authorities before staging a sit-in in Islamabad.
“It is the job of the district magistrate to regulate sit-ins,” he added.
He further said the JUI-F had yet to take permission and no law had been violated so far.
“It is the job of the local administration in Islamabad to make people obey the law. Nothing has happened yet.”
Later in the day, the JUI-F submitted an application to Islamabad chief commissioner seeking permission for staging a sit-in at D-Chowk.
JUI-F leader Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, through his counsel Kamran Murtaza, filed the application. The protest is planned in the federal capital’s red zone.
“The JUI-F has the democratic and constitutional right to hold the Azadi March,” the application read.