The Long March and a Nation in Turmoil

The public despair is creating a wave of sympathy for the PTI’s Long March

Dr. Sohail Mahmood

Pakistan is in turmoil. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is leading an anti-government long march toward Islamabad. Imran had earlier said that the protest march will continue for another 10 months till the date for general elections is announced. This is the PTI chair’s second march toward Islamabad after he was ousted earlier in April this year through a no-confidence motion.

In a shocking development, Imran Khan narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on November 3, day 7 of the Long March party’s long march in Punjab’s Wazirabad. Imran alleges that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and Major General Faisal Naseer from the Internal Wing, ISI had planned the attack.

Today, Imran Khan is riding a national popular wave, unlike anyone before since Zulifqar Ali Bhutto. But given the immense power of the deep state in the military establishment in Pakistan, a direct challenge will most likely be somehow neutralized. However, this won’t translate into strengthening the country’s hybrid system, which is again failing miserably.

Pakistan is a complex mess because of its weak political system, poor and corrupt leadership, and decades of bad governance. It is heading for a deepening political and economic crisis. Moreover, the country is facing acute political polarization and uncertainty creating further instability. Tense days ahead for the country, surely.

The Haqeeqi Azadi Long March is gathering a significant public response. The people are pouring onto the streets, as never before. As expected, the Sharif Government has started the backdoor talk with PTI through intermediaries. President Arif Alvi is, reportedly, playing an essential role in the negotiations between the PTI and the Sharif Government. Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi confirmed backdoor talks were indeed taking place.

Imran Khan’s vague Haqeeqi Azadi narrative calling for “real freedom for the people” of Pakistan from the Sharif Government was labeled as thoroughly corrupt and backed by the western countries. The Long March will somehow attain this objective through a popular soft revolution, which if thwarted, can also turn into a revolution.

The rhetoric though ambiguous is selling to people in increasing numbers. The people are fed up with the weakened economy, IMF conditionality, ineffectiveness of state services, high inflation, and poor governance. The public despair is creating a wave of sympathy for the PTI’s Long March.

The murder of Arshad Shareef, a prominent journalist, has somehow provided PTI sympathizers with an opportunity to criticize the Military directly. Yet, the PTI is also negotiating with the Military directly, bypassing the Sharif Government.

Meanwhile, the Military’s open criticism of Imran Khan has created more distrust among the opponents of the Sharif government. This is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. Imran’s continued criticism of the Military’s interference in the politics of Pakistan has become more stringent. He is riding a popular wave, as never before.

The march is a crawl to Islamabad stretched for several days, with a diversion along the way. All planned to pressurize the military for holding early general elections. Will the planned march succeed?

The writer is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Affairs Forum, Center for International Relations (CIR), Washington, DC. He also holds a Ph.D. with honors in Political Science from Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ. He hails from Lahore, Pakistan.   

Image courtesy of (Image: Zahoor/ Dawn)

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