Pakistan Reader# 260, 17 December 2021
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is back in the news after it declared its intention to hold numerous rallies in major cities, against the PTI government and an anti-inflammation march later.
On 7 December, PDM firmly maintained that it would move ahead with its long march to Islamabad on 23 March, the Pakistan Day. The reiteration came after Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid had asked the opposition alliance to reconsider their decision, reasoning that the PDM may face logistical difficulties on the day, since main roads in Islamabad would remain closed for the Pakistan Day parade. Further Rashid warned against any untoward incident on the day but assured the opposition leaders that no action will be initiated against them as long as they refrain from taking the law into their hands.
Prior to this development, the PDM, on 6 December, had announced that it would contest local elections; PDM chief Fazlur Rehman said, "Destroying social values, disgracing politics, disputing national institutions and divisive media brought about ominous change ... just wanting to know if change is fun?"
The recent developments beg the question of what the PDM wants and whether the PDM is back.
The PDM's end game
The PDM has been adamant that it will not cease its fight at anything lesser than "sending the government packing." With rising prices, the opposition alliance has gone back to its anti-inflation agenda and is hoping to gather support from the masses through this; therefore, it has proposed the “mehngai march” on 23 March. Recently, Fazlur Rehman was quoted by Daily Times, "We will keep fighting till the government drowns in the sea."
Three reasons why the PDM has failed so far
First, the absence of a strategy. Mighty declarations of holding a long march and subsequently dethroning the PTI government have been going on since the PDM was conceptualised in 2020. However, following the exit of the PPP from the PDM, the opposition alliance seems to have faltered in holding its fort together. Further, the PDM has failed to produce a clear way forward if it succeeds in overthrowing the government and as Fazlur Rehman said, “rid the nation of the present oppression.”
Second, the lack of consensus within the alliance. The PML-N’s support to the PDM seems to be wavering, wherein some party members now seem to be distancing themselves from the alliance’s “aggressive anti-establishment stance.” While the JUI-F and the JUP claim that all constituent parties agree with the PDM’s strategy, the PML-N now seems to differ from the same. Dawn reports that the PDM met at least thrice in the six weeks leading up to the declaration of the date for the long march; yet, the opposition alliance had failed to “come out with some solid plan.”
Third, the PML-N factor. The party is moving towards a stance similar to the PPP’s opposition to enmasse resignations from the assemblies, and now the long march. PPP garnered criticism from the latter for going against the opposition alliance’s strategy to resign from the assemblies. However, on 15 December, The Express Tribune quoted a PML-N MNA who said that the party prefers to struggle democratically and rejected the idea of mass resignations, reasoning,”This government, as discourteous as it is, might call for a fresh election on all our vacated seats, in case of en masse resignations. What will we do then?” The MNA also expressed apprehension about “besieging” the capital city, maintaining that the PTI had used the same against them previously.
For the above reasons, the PDM has not been able to present itself as the viable option, as Fahd Hussain wrote in Dawn, and therefore, the PTI government has not taken the PDM as a serious threat yet and continues to have an upper hand in the political scenario. As several editorials described it, the PDM has remained confined to talks, talks and more talks.
Amir Wasim, “PDM adamant on its Pakistan Day long march protest,” Dawn, 8 December 2021
Rizwan Shehzad, "PDM decides to march on Islamabad on March 23," The Express Tribune, 7 December 2021
“No escape for Imran when PDM reaches Islamabad: Fazl,” Daily Times, November 2021
Amir Wasim, “PDM fails to firm up plan for anti-government drive,” Dawn, 24 November 2021
Fahd Husain, “RED ZONE FILES: The five-front conflict,” Dawn, 2 December 2021
Rameez Khan, “PML-N opposes en masse resignations,” The Express Tribune, 15 December 2021
“PDM’s lack of strategy,” Dawn, 8 December 2021