Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday kicked off a “long march” to the capital Islamabad in an attempt to press the government for snap elections.
Thousands of Khan’s supporters massed in Lahore, the capital of northeastern Punjab, which is governed by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and an ally political party, to join the march amid stringent security.
Khan donned in white shalwar-kameez (loose trousers and
shirt) and a black waistcoat, standing on a specially designed truck with other party leaders, waving to the charged crowds who chanted anti-government slogans
As the march kicked off, marchers chanted in unison, “Imported government unacceptable.”
“This (march) is not politics. This is aimed at saving the country from loot and corruption of this government,” Khan said while addressing his supporters.
He directly pointed at the head of the country’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence( ISI) Lt Gen. Anjum Naveed, accusing him of being part of the coalition government.
He asked his supporters to remain peaceful despite “provocations by the government.”
According to the schedule released by the party, the march will be joined by rallies from several districts on its way to the capital. The march will take four days to reach the capital, where it will be joined by party supporters from northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, which is also governed by the PTI.
Although it is unclear how long the marchers will remain in the capital, Khan has asserted that the march will be “totally peaceful.”
The marchers are unlikely to face any obstacles until they reach the borders of Islamabad, thanks to the PTI governments not only in the two bordering provinces of Punjab and KP, but also in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region.
The real showdown is expected in Islamabad, which has literally been turned into a fortress. Hundreds of empty containers have been placed along main and feeder roads to block marchers from entering the capital, particularly the “red zone,” which houses the offices of the president and prime minister, parliament, the Supreme Court, and other important government buildings.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah stated that the government has deployed three layers of security, including army troops, to maintain law and order.
Over 1,300 police and paramilitary troops have been deployed in and around the capital, with an additional police force dispatched from southern Sindh province, which is ruled by Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) second-largest coalition partner.
The coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has repeatedly refused to cave in to the demand for early elections, which are otherwise slated to be held in October next year.
– Deepening political crisis
Imran Khan was deposed as prime minister in April after a no-confidence motion was passed in parliament.
He blames his unceremonious ouster on a US-backed conspiracy, an allegation that Islamabad and Washington have repeatedly refuted.
Pakistan’s top election body last week disqualified Khan for unlawfully selling gifts he received from foreign dignitaries, igniting another political turmoil in the South Asian nuclear country.
Many people believe Khan’s disqualification will aggravate the ongoing political deadlock caused by his removal from the prime minister’s office.
Khan, who became the country’s 19th prime minister in August 2018, ruled for just over three and a half years.
He is the country’s third premier who has been disqualified as a lawmaker, following three-time premier Nawaz Sharif and Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.
His center-right PTI campaigned on the promise of a “Naya,” or “new Pakistan,” pledging to fight corruption, strengthen the crippling economy, and pursue an independent foreign policy.
However, critics say he failed to keep his promises, and the opposition gained momentum to bring down his government.
His ouster, nonetheless, turned out to be a tonic for his dwindling popularity due to a poor state of economy and governance.
His party has emerged victorious in the two latest by-elections, with Khan himself clinching six National Assembly seats in earlier this month’s by-polls.