Pakistan Reader# 304, 7 March 2022
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
On 27 February, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto launched the ‘Awami Long March’ against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) - led federal government, with the slogan of ‘Go Imran go.’ The march to Islamabad would pass through 23 districts and 37 cities in 10 days before reaching the federal capital on 23 March.
The final push, with a 38-point charter
Bilawal termed the march as a “final push” against the “weakened and unjust” federal government. He also issued a charter with 38 points, “seeking social development programme, electoral reforms, the effective justice system, sustainable economic policy, and a strong foreign policy aimed at connecting Pakistan with the rest of the world instead of the steps that were isolating the country with the international community.”
At the launch, Bilawal said the march was a “storm of public anger” against the government, and termed it as “ just the beginning of what lies ahead.” He also made the following call: “From now onwards for the next 10 days, people from across the country would send him message of their sentiments and make countdown. It’s a beginning. It’s a beginning of an end. It’s beginning of a new era. It’s a beginning of a realization [prevailing] among the masses that how their dreams were snatched over the last three years and their hopes were stolen in the name of change.”
PPP’s rhetoric during the march
Although still in its initial phase, the PPP's march has been heavily filled with rhetoric. Bilawal took to the streets not just in numbers but had also heavily unleashed criticism on the PTI government. At several venues during the long march, Bilawal has called on the “puppet” Prime Minister Imran Khan to dissolve assemblies and resign voluntarily before the PPP workers reach Islamabad along with a no-confidence resolution. He claimed that the PPP “will enter Islamabad and remove this undemocratic puppet in a democratic manner.”
He also accused PM Khan of being apathetic to the problems facing the people, stating, “this puppet government for the last three years has been saying that he [Prime Minister Imran] cannot provide jobs to the youth of the country. Every promise by Imran Khan proved to be false whether it was 1 crore [10 million] jobs or 50 lakh [five million] houses.”
On the sentimental side, Bilawal is reportedly using the same truck for the march as was used by his mother Benazir Bhutto, on her historic return to Pakistan on 18 October 2007.
The PPP’s twin strategy: Bilawal at the streets, while Zardari at the political tables
While Bilawal focuses on the PPP’s long march and matter on the street, Asif Ali Zardari has strategically engaged with the leadership of several parties. Prior to the launch, Zardari initially met with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shahbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz. Following this, Zardari reached out to the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) leadership to discuss strategies to remove Imran Khan. By reaching out to a PTI ally, the PPP is taking a drastic step.
Zardari had also met with the Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq and sought his support for bringing the no-confidence motion against the PTI government. Additionally, he met with Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, after which in a joint statement they stated that the stage was all set for bringing a no-confidence motion against the PTI government.
As Bilawal takes to the streets with the large jalsas, to garner public support, Zardari has looked at matters at a higher level, despite his health issues.
Will the long march succeed?
Long marches have been trendy among political parties in Pakistan. The PPP’s flamboyant march has intrigued the masses with its elaborate demands and sentimental touches. Additionally, it has enabled mobilizing the party’s workers before the upcoming elections. However, the march is unlikely to heed much success due to the larger politics.
The success of the march depends on two factors. First, is the Opposition’s unity. On ousting Imran Khan, the PPP along with other opposition parties are on the same page, however, their strategy until recently has been vague. Now the opposition has reached some consensus on passing a no-confidence motion against the government, the next factor is the numbers. The second factor is the politics of numbers. Currently, the PTI-government has a 17-member lead over the opposition as a result of its allies MQM-P (7), PML-Q (5), and BAP (5). However, with the PPP and other opposition parties approaching these parties to get their support, it is yet to be seen how successful they would be.
Meanwhile, looking at the march’s demands, it is unlikely that there would be any positive response from the government as many of the demands are too far-reaching and critical on the government.
While the PPP’s ‘Awami March’ may not achieve its desires, it will be one for the books not only as the longest march undertaken by a political leader but also would be a test for Bilawal to showcase his strength and political prowess.
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