What made Imran make a swift retreat?

Insiders say powerful circles were on board and pushed both sides to make certain decisions

Rizwan Shehzad   May 27, 2022
PTI chief Imran Khan along with other party leader during 'Azadi March' in Islamabad on May 25, 2022. Photo: Facebook/PTI


PTI chairman and former premier Imran Khan on Thursday took many by surprise when he suddenly announced ending his “Haqeeqi Azadi March” and decided to give a six-day ultimatum to the ruling coalition to announce an election date or else he would return to the capital with more people next time.

The change of plan was not just sudden, but a deviation from what Imran had been saying for the past several weeks that he would not leave Islamabad without getting a date for the next elections from the government.

However, things did not pan out that way. In fact what looked like a swift retreat not only raised several questions but also set tongues wagging that the decision must be a result of behind-the-scenes developments.

Insiders revealed that powerful circles were on board and pushed both sides to make certain decisions, including PTI’s entry into the capital and end of the rally instead of going for a sit-in. They added that everyone, including the powerful circles, needed face-saving and it was not just about political parties.

With the government-PTI face-off, they said, the pressure was built and clear messages were conveyed to the powerful stakeholders -- that they could not act as spectators for long, knowing full well the responsibilities they shouldered under the situation.

“In terms of understanding, all the political parties have the same feelings about the past role of institutions,” a source privy to the development told The Express Tribune. “The only difference is that political parties are not on the same container.”

He said the political parties were not together right now, but there was a fear that they might start exposing the powerful circles. “There’s a trust deficit. No one trusts the other at the moment.”

The source said the secrets of the powerful circles could be brought into the open as well.

“Secrets can be revealed and they don’t want that.” The powerful circles were allegedly involved in the change of government, he said, saying they also needed face-saving and wanted to ensure that “sanity prevailed”.

About the date of the general elections, the source said, there were strong chances that they could take place in October this year – just a month before the army chief retired.

They said the speaker’s office was used for talks and could be used for further negotiations for finalising the election date.

Keeping October in view, the insiders and political observers believe that the government will continue till August and will not only present the budget but will have a chance to reverse legislation pertaining to electoral reforms, the National Accountability Bureau, etc. – a process that has already begun.

On the abrupt calling off of the rally, a PTI leader said that Imran was “bound to make that decision”, saying there were genuine reasons.

Nevertheless, he added, it was a win-win situation for all the stakeholders. On the size of the rally, they said that “sometimes the numbers matter, sometimes optics; last night’s rally was more about optics.”

Another PTI leader said there were no preparations for making people stay for a longer period, adding the fear factor of a mass gathering made the government nervous and helped the PTI in changing its objective from staging a sit-in to staging only a power show.

Also, he said, Imran called off the rally as he sensed that there could be a confrontation between people and the law enforcers, especially the army. He questioned who calls the army for a few thousand people exercising their political and democratic rights, saying it was an attempt to pit the public against the forces.

On coming back after six days, he said the plan to return was so far intact and assumed that there will be no bar from the top court on the next political gathering and that would give PTI more freedom to make choices.

The source referred to Imran’s speech where he said that people were also looking toward the Supreme Court as nowhere in the world the permission for a peaceful rally is denied.

Since his ouster through a no-confidence motion, Imran has been rallying across the country to build momentum against the government to force it to announce early elections, and the May 25 long march was supposed to stay put until a date was announced. However, that did not happen.

Nevertheless, one impact of the long march and the ultimatum was that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said the doors were open for talks with the opposition but he would not take any dictation. Speaking on the floor of the House, the premier even offered to form a committee to discuss the next elections.

Political observers said the budget and reforms were one thing, but the ruling alliance was also taking some time so that the impact of their decisions evaporated before they went to elections – possibly this October.


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