Is Pakistan Democratic Movement fizzling out?

The 11-party alliance has seemingly run aground before it could even hold its first rally

Qaiser Butt October 11, 2020


It appears the anti-government Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has lost steam before it could even hold its inaugural public gathering.

The 11-party alliance had announced it would start a series of protest rallies from October 11 from Quetta. At the time, observers presumed the move hinged on hopes that the worker-strength of alliance members Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) in Balochistan would translate into a successful maiden outing.

But multiple factors and internal differences have led to a change in both the date and destination of its first venture. Their campaign is now set to launch from Gujranwala at a later date.

The first of these factors came in the shape of Awami National Party-Wali, which is part of the ruling coalition in Balochistan. The coalition is led by Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan of the Balochistan Awami Party, a party some see as supposedly 'pro-establishment'.

PDM’s Quetta rally had initially been planned for October 7. The original date was changed after ANP-W communicated it had a meeting of its central executive committee on the same day. The second date, October 9, was also changed on account of ANP-W, which had a rally in Qila Saifullah on that day.

Another factor was prompted by the PDM setting its sights on the establishment in addition to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), as evidenced by Nawaz Sharif’s recent contentious speech. On account of this, JUI-F, PkMAP and ANP-W advised Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to launch the campaign from Punjab since parties from Balochistan had been expressing displeasure with the establishment since Pervez Musharraf’s regime.

Certain quarters also argued that starting the campaign from Punjab made more sense since PML-N was the aggrieved side in the current political standoff. Not only was Nawaz sacked as prime minister, several PML-N leaders are currently facing investigation by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Meanwhile, the position of PPP on PDM appears to be far from clear. Both it and the PML-N, despite initial commitments, were unable to mount a strong show in Islamabad.

At the same time, the PPP appears unsure about Fazlur Rehman leading the show just like it was last year during the JUI-F sit-in in the capital. The reasons appear to be the same as then as well – PPP and JUI-F seemingly sit on opposite ideological ends since the former fashions itself a left-wing liberal party while the latter is a right-wing religious one.

Despite its clear anti-establishment stance, PPP has never support any movement to derail the democratic process as well. In the case of PDM, it has also not shown any zeal or serious effort towards making the alliance a success beyond its leaders voicing regular government criticism on TV. In contrast, PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz has been showing far more effort towards mobilising the population against the government and making the PDM campaign a success.

While some opposition leaders have suggested resigning en masse from assemblies to force fresh elections, if the past is anything to go by, the alliance of six religious parties that ruled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) under Musharraf famously refused to do so.

Some opposition workers also appear to hold suspicions that Nawaz moved abroad under some form of deal. As such they are sceptical as to whether support a leader from central Punjab would be a good idea.

The future of PDM is unlikely to be clear until October 16, when the grand alliance’s first rally will take place in Gujranwala. The PML-N itself may find holding any rally a massive task as it has not held any major public gathering for quit some time.

When the movement does eventually reach Quetta, its chances of success will still be up in the air as well. PML-N has a very weak support base in Balochistan, and while the alliance has the support of Baloch nationalist parties like National Party-Bizenjo and Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), there is a strong chance their workers will not turn up for a PDM rally in Quetta. Both former Balochistan chief minister and NP-B leader Abdul Malik Baloch and BNP-M secretary general and senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini are actively trying to muster support for the alliance’s planned rallies at present.

That said the cost attached to PDM’s failure is significantly high. This could be the last time the opposition is able to muster any sort of significant challenge to the government and the establishment, and it fizzling out will tip the balance further in the latter two’s favour.

Voicing his thoughts on PDM, ANP-W General Secretary Aurangzeb Kasi said he was not expecting much success from the anti-government struggle. “JUI-F and PkMAP may get some political benefits, but I don’t think it will help opposition parties overall,” he maintained.

Kasi said the PDM leadership should “swear on the Quran that they will not be part of any government that comes to power with the help of the establishment.” He gave the examples of the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) and the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in the past. “PNA leaders all joined Ziaul Haq’s cabinet after ZA Bhutto was ousted. Benazir Bhutto, after the MRD succeeded in getting her elected, promised to not interfere in Pakistan’s policies pertaining to Afghanistan and India, and to talk against Zia.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2020.


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