Islamabad, November 2: The Azadi March, which is being spearheaded by cleric-cum-rightwing politician Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman, has gained momentum in Pakistan. The 66-year-old Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) leader has given Prime Minister Imran Khan an ultimatum to resign by Sunday. If Khan fails to adhere to his diktat, the Malauna has warned of a full-scale revolution to topple his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.
The PTI, which had so far termed the agitation as a desperate procession of marginalised groups, has now shown the first signs of relent. Defence Minister Pervez Khattak on Saturday said the "doors for negotiation" are open for the Opposition-led alliance. He, however, categorically dismissed Maulana Fazl's demand seeking the resignation of Khan.
What is the Azadi March and How it Gained Momentum?
The Azadi March, which was launched a few days ago from Karachi - the bastion of Sindh-ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) - gained momentum as unemployment in the country has peaked to an all-time high and inflation spiralling to unprecedented levels. Although the official data is yet to be out, the effect of the economic recession in Pakistan is rampant as scores of factories have been shut down and job opportunities for the youth are turning scarce.
The falling wages and lack of business activities led to a massive show of support from the people towards the Azadi March. Led by firebrand Maulana Fazl, the protesters moved from Karachi to Lahore. In Punjab, from where the cleric draws most of his support, a large-scale disenchantment was seen towards Khan whose government has so far failed to live up to the pre-poll promises.
The march, though being headed by the Maulana, is also being bolstered by PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, PML-N president Nawaz Sharif and the left-wing Awami National Party general secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Nearly half-a-dozen other smaller parties have also lended support to the agitation.
By the time the March left from Lahore on Thursday towards its final destination of Islamabad, all the Opposition leaders were seen united in galvanising their cadres. PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif, whose brother and former three-time PM Nawaz Sharif is reeling behind the bars, said the joint Opposition regime could fix the economy within days if handed over the reigns.
Further upping the ante against Khan over the state of economy, Bilawal Bhutto said seasoned politicians and parties which are "elected" can govern the country, rather than those "who are selected". His veiled jibe was aimed at reinforcing the military-controlled puppet jibe against the Prime Minister.
Apart from Bilawal, Maulana Fazl has also targeted the Army, alleging that the 2018 polls were "fixed" by the "powerful institution" to bring their preferred politician to power. The cleric has asked the military to remain neutral and allow the Opposition to further the agitation against Khan.
"We do not want conflict with our institutions. But we also want to see them to stay neutral. We give two days to the institutions (also) to decide if they will continue to support this government," he had said on Friday. Reacting to his statement, military spokesperson Major Asif Ghafoor said the armed forces are neutral but would not remain a mute spectator if attempts are made to "create instability" in the nation.