30  Years of Long March Politics

Exactly 30 years ago on 18th November 1992, the federal capital of Pakistan was facing similar uncertainty due to the announcement by then PPP leader Benazir Bhutto to lead a Long March towards Islamabad for toppling the PMLN Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif led federal government.

By Cherie Conela

In the contemporary age, Benazir Bhutto, being an opposition leader, introduced the term ‘Long March’ in national politics in the year 1992 against the PMLN government led by Mian Nawaz Sharif. She announced plans to surround the President House and Parliament with the help of PPP workers on November 18. She was expecting that thousands of people would join her to change the regime. However, the government took extraordinary measures to deal with the Long March, such as canceling police holidays in the twin cities and Islamabad was handed over to the army.

Benazir Bhutto passes amid tear gas clouds during a demonstration against the first administration of Nawaz Sharif.
Photo Credit: Dawn.com

Reportedly, when Benazir Bhutto reached Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi there were only two vehicles with her. Although the long march failed, the fact remains that the government was too panicked. Inviting the army to protect Islamabad exposed the weakness of political set up.

Benazir Bhutto planned the second Long March in the next year, 1993. This march, however, was successful, as after a few days, Nawaz Sharif’s government came to an end. Various analysts tried to explain the reasons behind the failure of the first march and the success of the second long march led by Benazir Bhutto.

According to them, the basic reason for the failure of the first long march 1992 was that she did not do proper ‘homework’ to make it successful. However, in the next year 1993, Benazir Bhutto planned another long march which was once again started from Lahore but before she reached Islamabad the then Chief of Army Staff General Abdul Waheed Kakar reportedly intervened, and the president and the prime minister both were convinced to step down on the condition that elections would be held within ninety days.

Photo Credit: Dawn.com

Undoubtedly, former Prime Minister Imran Khan is increasing pressure on the government day by day since being ousted from power by a no-confidence motion. On several occasions, he called on the ‘whole nation’ to reach the federal capital. Khan has claimed several times that millions of PTI workers will reach Islamabad and will remain there until the assemblies are dissolved and a date for a new election is announced.

In his critical remarks against the bureaucracy, the police and even the military establishment, he categorically warned that any action taken by the state against this ‘peaceful protest’ would be illegal. While calling the army officials by name, he is trying to disseminate his narrative that, ‘If you are neutral. If there are, be neutral in this too.’

However, in order to analyse how much this long march of Imran Khan is helping in achieving his political goals, we need to learn about the history of such protests and their ultimate results from past examples.

Historically, the first such political protest, after independence, was initiated in 1953 on the basis of religious grounds. It was the first strike that took place in the country after the establishment of Pakistan and a large number of people from Lahore marched to Karachi, the then capital city. Reportedly, this riot was so intense that cannons had to be installed on the state buildings to safeguard from the mob.

Today, after 30 years of the country’s first ever Long March, yet another Long march led by ousted PM Imran Khan is on its way towards Islamabad. How much pressure will the government face from this long march and how many people will join in the long march? Currently, such kinds of questions are emerging in the national media and being discussed among political circles. Another important question is that if the Long March show is successful, what will be the damage to the coalition government and what will be the impact on Imran Khan’s aggressive narrative.

Although many PTI activists are expected to be arrested by the government, obstacles are being put up at entry and exit points of Islamabad, but the popularity of Imran Khan is still there and a large number of people might be a part of this long march.

Until a few months ago, voices of early elections were also being raised in the government circles. An important faction within the PML-N was in favor of early elections and was expressing it in statements. However, the announcement of the PTI-led Long March resulted in silencing such voices and now all political parties are on one page that the government must complete its parliamentary term and will not go for early elections in any way. In this context, Imran Khan’s long march decision is very meaningful to defining the current political arena. Analysts believe that the success or failure of this long march will have an everlasting impact on PTI’s overall politics and Imran Khan’s popularity.

The failure and success of this long march will also make a difference to the government and Imran Khan’s politics. If this long march becomes successful then the morale of PTI will boost up and the government is forced to announce the next elections. In this way, Imran Khan will be able to say proudly that ‘those who expelled me , I also expelled them.’

However, if the Long March fails, then the government will tackle the PTI more confidently. As per political analysts, if the government does not announce the next elections immediately and succeed in completing its term, the impression will be strengthened among the public that the stance being taken by the PTI is unrealistic.

Comparison of the PTI sit-in of 2014 at D-Chowk and the current long march, further revealed that the then government and Mian Nawaz Sharif did not use force in the sit-in. However, the current regime is apparently not in a mood to welcome the mob entering Islamabad and therefore, brutal force is expected to be used by law enforcement agencies. The extreme weather conditions are currently also not favourable to show street power in Islamabad.

Keeping the 30 years old Long March scenario in view, Imran Khan’s whole effort is apparently to seek the attention of the military establishment by hook or by crook to intervene in politics for announcing new elections. This is the reason for putting pressure on the army to assist him in achieving his political goals. He is having fears that time is running out rapidly, and if elections shouldn’t be announced as soon as possible then the appointment of new COAS by the PM Shehbaz Sharif may result in an exit to the PTI from national politics forever


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance

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