History is beginning to repeat itself in Pakistan. Late last month, several Opposition parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N), came together in Islamabad in an “all parties conference” pledging to remove the Imran Khan government via a “mass movement”. But the real target, at least as articulated by PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif in strong words as “a state above the state”, was the military. A 26-point resolution adopted by the Pakistan Democratic Movement called on the “establishment”, short-hand for the military, to stop meddling in politics and described the present government as “selected” by the military. The PDM has announced a plan of action for the coming months, including rallies — the first of these is set to take place in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan — that will culminate in a “long march” in January.
There is an undeniable churn in Pakistan once again, and the government of Imran Khan, whose symbiotic relationship with the Pakistan Army has been well advertised by no less than the prime minister himself, will have its hands full. This is not the first time in Pakistan’s history that political parties are joining hands to remove an elected or selected government or a military ruler. This time, the protests are targeted against an openly hybrid civilian-military regime, for which the initial popular enthusiasm has begun to wear off. The PDM’s choice of leader has been counter-intuitive, but perhaps it sidesteps the trickier choice between PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, or their political heirs, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Mariam Nawaz. And while Maulana Fazlur Rehman leads an Islamist right-wing party inherited from his father, and has supported the Afghan jihad, and made deals with the military, he has also worked with the PPP and PML(N) in the past. Additionally, he would bring to the table his own credibility in religious conservative Pakistan, thus pre-empting the usual accusation against such alliances in the past, that they play to an American, Israeli or Indian script.
Last year, Fazlur Rehman led his own long march to the capital demanding that Imran Khan resign, and among the grounds he gave for this demand was that the government had been too soft on India over Kashmir, and opened the gates in Kartarpur Sahib. He will lead the rally in Quetta, where he has a large following among the Baloch Pashtun. Where this latest iteration of the “movement for democracy” is headed will be revealed as the game unfolds.
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