Soon after the parliament ousted Imran Khan as prime minister, he used his conspiracy driven narrative on media to threaten the new government with a long march if his demand of early polls was not entertained. On May 22, he announced the Haqiqi Azadi March towards Islamabad, claiming to bring in over two million people. The PTI leaders intimidated the government with inflammatory statements, and urged supporters to reach Islamabad at any cost. Sheikh Rashid and some PTI leaders called the protest a “Khooni March”.
Fearing a possible eruption of violence, the incumbent government sprang into action. It announced to block the PTI bloody march. Police, district administration and other law enforcement agencies took measures, such as enforcing section 144, putting the PTI leaders under house arrest, detaining some of the key leaders, and blocking main roads in their respective districts.
Reports of police raids and resultant clashes started pouring in. Police tried to foil the PTI march preparations by launching a grand crackdown. Clashes spree continued. The police confronted the PTI activists on different locations across the country on the march day. According to police officials, at least three policemen lost their lives, while over 100 were injured in clashes with the PTI workers.
With much less than expected crowd and sighting no immediate turnaround, Imran Khan pulled off the long march with a pledge to strike back within a week. Since then, however, he has been trying to seek the Supreme Court’s legal protection to reconvene the abandoned march.
Despite obstacles and police crackdown, hundreds of PTI activists managed to reach Islamabad on May 25, the D-Day. Armed, some of them, while carrying batons, mostly, the PTI marchers stormed the capital and set trees and green belts on fire. Imran Khan, meanwhile, was struggling to make his way to the capital owing to blockade of all main roads. With much less than expected crowd and sighting no immediate turnaround, Imran Khan pulled off the long march with a pledge to strike back within a week. Since then, however, he has been trying to seek the Supreme Court’s legal protection to reconvene the abandoned march.
On the other hand, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) started its march from February 27 to unsettle the ruling elite for its inability to bring about positive changes for the masses. The PPP long march, despite starting without much fanfare or media ado, attracted lots of attention and support throughout the way. The then ruling PTI took the PPP as merely a ‘Sindhi’ party thus did not obstruct much, other than blocking the march at Faizabad.
After crossing different cities of Sindh, the PPP march entered Punjab. The march pulled off surprising support and the media was left with no choice but to cover it. Hardly any news of the police clashes with the marchers made headlines.
Before the start of the PPP march, some notable political heavyweights rejoined the PPP – like, Imtiaz Safdar Warraich from Gujranwala, Pagganwala family from Gujrat and Nadeem Afzal Chan.
The 10-day march passed through 34 cities across Sindh and Punjab before culminating near Islamabad’s D-Chowk, in front of the Parliament House. The party attracted a large crowd from different parts of the country but at no point the march became violent. Though the PPP activists were forced to block the Islamabad-Rawalpindi highway only when the PTI government obstructed its caravan.
The PTI march received round the clock media coverage, the PPP did not. The PTI took law in its own hand, the PPP stood by the law. The PTI moved back to the hut without achieving anything, the PPP returned peacefully without making hollow promises.
Unlike Khan, who in his speeches during the long march threatened the country’s administration and law enforcing police officers, Bilawal Bhutto sounded wise and candid. Bhutto, in his multiple speeches at different stopovers vowed to oust the government by using only the ‘democratic weapons’.
The PPP march was well planned, managed, calculated, and executed. The party, which obviously lacks strong support from Punjab, travelled through the province with intermittent stopovers attracting a decent crowd. As a result, political pundits believe, the long march definitely helped the party in reactivating and mobilising its dormant workers in Central Punjab.
There was a stark difference between the two long marches. The PTI march was much touted, the other was not. The PTI march received round the clock media coverage, the PPP did not. The PTI took law in its own hand, the PPP stood by the law. The PTI moved back to the hut without achieving anything, the PPP returned peacefully without making hollow promises. And, yet, the PPP long march was more impactful; the no-confidence motion against the prime minister was moved with the PPP entry into Islamabad which put more pressure on the government. And we witnessed what happened afterwards. The PPP demonstrated that long marches can achieve targets without putting all eggs in one basket, surprises can be pulled off without adopting violent means — and above all abiding by democratic norms and rule of law.
The PTI must compare its long march strategy with the PPP’s, and consider what needs to be done in order to gain objectives without forcing the country to a standstill.