Repercussions of Azadi March

By Sajjad Shaukat

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman announced to end two-week-long protest of Azadi March (Freedom March) sit-in in Islamabad on November 13, this year. Addressing the Azadi March protesters, Fazlur Rehman said that ‘Plan B’ will now be implemented with full force, as the scale of the protest will now be extended across the country by blocking highways and major thoroughfares. Implementing ‘Plan B’, the protesters of the UUI-F have started blocking the main highways, resulting into large traffic jams and inconvenience for the peoples.

The demonstrations of the Azadi March which started on October 27, 2019 by the workers of JUI-F reached the capital Islamabad on October 31 and held their sit-in to dislodge the federal government.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman has repeatedly pointed out that the basic agenda of JUI-F’s protest march is to get rid of the government of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). He stated that protest would continue till the resignation the Prime Minister of Imran Khan- the leader of the PTI, and announcement of the new elections.

During the sit-in (Dharna) in Islamabad, Maulana Fazlur Rehman had warned that he gives two-day to the prime minister to step down from his office. He elaborated that If he didn’t quit before the two-day deadline, the JUI-F protesters—the voters whose mandate he alleged had been stolen in the last year’s elections—would be free to choose whichever course of action which also includes entering the federal government’s Red Zone to march towards the PM House and to arrest him.

As the head of the JUI-F had shown intentions of violating the agreement with the government that participants of the Azadi March would remain in the D-Chowk and would not enter the Red Zone, Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which were fully supporting the Azadi March Dharna withdrew their support.

On the other side, Prime Minister Imran Khan made it clear in his speeches that the opposition’s demand for resignation is unjustified and could not be accepted at any cost in wake of several meetings which were held between the government and opposition parties—but to no avail.

As regard the allegations of rigging in elections 2018, the stand of the government’s top officials was that there can be negotiations on strengthening Election Commission of Pakistan and parliamentary committees—a judicial commission can be constituted for the opening of a constituency. They have forwarded the reservations being raised by the members of JUI-F committee. But, Maulana Fazlur Rehman rejected all these offers.

However, politics of Azadi March or sit-in led by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has resulted into multiple repercussions which need attention.

In this regard, a number of Azadi March participants were hoisting Taliban flags, which displayed the presence of Afghan nationals and the juvenile in the sit-in. Many protesters were arrested for hoisting Taliban flags.

According to defence analysts, “hoisting of Taliban flags in the JUI-F’s Azadi March put a negative impact on the improving image of Pakistan”.

Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry has asked Maulana Fazlur Rehman to explain his relations with Baitullah and Hakeemullah Mehsud. He said that Pakistan desires for peace in Afghanistan and hoisting Taliban flags in Azadi March were beyond his understanding.

It is notable that Baitullah and Hakeemullah Mehsud-the former chiefs of the Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had conducted many terrorism related attacks in Pakistan. Having connections with Afghanistan’s intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Indian RAW, the terrorists of the TTP have been destabilizing Pakistan. RAW and NDS are in connivance with the Pashtoon Tahfuz Movement (PTM) in order to create disturbance, law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and that of Baluchistan. Apart from other similar regions of the country, some terror attacks in these provinces were part of nefarious designs against Pakistan.

It is mentionable that Usman Dar-the special assistant to PM on youth affairs has stated on Twitter that Pakistan is on the verge of being blacklisted by the FATF. The marchers holding the Afghan Taliban’s flag showed that the JUI-F has been supporting them. This even raises questions about the PPP and PML-N’s support for the march.

Notably, Pakistan was recently advised by the FATF to carefully implement all the points, if it wants to come out of the grey list at the beginning of the next year. Indian media blames the country for financing terrorist organizations which are responsible for the killing of countless innocent people across the world. In such a situation, holding the Taliban’s flag may lead to some serious challenges for the state of the country.

One of the major repercussions of the protesters of the Azadi March is that it has been giving a setback to the cause of Kashmir at this crucial hour when a majority of the world’s leaders, Western media and human rights groups have been giving much coverage to India’s lockdown and Modi’s illegitimate moves by pointing out the sufferings of the Kashmiris. But, it is regrettable that instead of indicating solidarity with the plight of the Kashmir people to the maximum and showing selfless unity with the armed forces in wake of Indian war-like threats, the leader of the JUI-F Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman has been diverting attention of media and patriot Pakistanis from Modi’s sinister moves.

In fact, giving poor response on the Kashmir situation, the main purpose of organizing protest- demonstrations is to put pressure on the government by creating hurdle in accountability system, as ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif-former leader of the PML-N and ex-President of Pakistan Asif Zardari, leader the PPP, including some other leaders of their parties are undergoing different investigations regarding corruption charges. They are against the continued anti-corruption drive and documentation of the economy which can pull the country out of the multiple crises.

While, it was due to the corruption-practice of the previous regimes that at this juncture, Pakistan is facing multi-faceted crises and challenges like corruption, soaring prices, energy-shortage, unemployment, crimes, lack of health facilities, and dependence upon the US-led developed countries, IMF and World Bank for financial aid. Pakistan is currently ranked 117 out of 180 countries on the Transparency International Index which is quite worrisome.

Elected government of Prime Minister Imran Khan led by PTI, remains determined in building a “corruption free society”. Under the leadership of Imran Khan, anti-corruption drive by the institutions continues independently.

Nonetheless, the Azadi March has been on its way to upset the status quo of the country. The protesters are ready to accept no less than the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The staged sit-in and demonstration has started to pose a negative impact on the already-fragile economy of the country. It had resulted in the closure of business activities in the capital city.

The history of anti-government marches in Pakistan proves that almost all the political and religious parties have used them as a tactic to pressurize or topple governments. Past experience shows that whenever a political turmoil occurs in Pakistan, it carries a certain cost. For a country which has been struggling to attract foreign investors and has been trying to avail all its options to display a good image abroad with respect to its internal security, such protests against the government can have serious repercussions.

These sorts of demonstrations result in disruption of economic activities and a large amount of expenditures on security maintenance, hence, inflation becomes inevitable as a consequence. The transport sector is always at a huge revenue loss whenever a region is blocked. Besides, these protests are also dangerous to human lives, as on the whole, security situation of the country gets disturbed. Those opposition leaders who create political disorder also get a chance to carry on with their activities, as a good portion of security is used for their protest. It is also true in case of the Azadi March.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court of Pakistan may give verdict on the presence of Afghan nationals (if any) in the protest march (Azadi March) and may consider banning of all under 18 years of age to form part of protest-sit-ins or marches i.e. Media may generate discussion on these issues instead of giving much coverage to these protests or sit-ins which cause inconvenience to local populace due occupation of metro stations by the protesters/closure of metro bus service and roads block.

At this critical juncture, the country has been facing an extremely alarming critical phase. Hence, showing flexibility, the political parties, including the ruling party must resolve their differences through negotiations in accordance with the constitution.

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