It started off like any other idea, PTI (more specifically Imran Khan) has floated in the last couple of years with seemingly little thought put behind it. Long march against ‘electoral rigging’. Most of us had heard this slogan numerous times over the last many months. Some even shrugged it off and stated it would be called off or delayed sooner or later. To his (khan’s) credit it didn’t waiver and vaporise into thin air as a lot of his recent euphoric protests did. To his detriment it does not exhibit a clear vision on how he plans to accomplish his goals nor does it explain how he still feels he holds the moral high ground after 3 (to my recollection) MPA’s of his have either been disqualified or a previous decision in favour of them was upturned against PTI! No surprise that the most recent of these incidents was just brushed under the rug and hardly commented on by the PTI leadership on the eve of the long march. Somewhere, along the line he found himself the unlikeliest of allies in the shape of Tahir Ul Qadri (who is getting quite seasoned by now in the art of long marches) despite having little to no ideological similarities with Tahir ul Qadri both welcomed each other with open arms and started giving out back to back statements blasting the legality of the present set up.
All throughout this time, it seemed the central government remained adamant in their denial. Each ludicrous demand from their opponents was met with an equally instigating remark which further resulted in deterioration of the situation. What could have been handled with relative ease through some political tact and poise was further egged on by irresponsible statements and ill advised decisions by the PM’s inner circle. The matter came to a head when Tahir ul Qadri’s supporters clashed with police around 2 months ago as PAT workers clashed with police and were killed. Events unfolded and Tahir ul qadri landed on Lahore airport but refused to disembark citing security fears and threats to his life. ENTER Governor Sindh Ishrat ul Ibad. As if to show the Nawaz Sharif government how such matters should be handled he defused the situation within a matter of hours and managed to get Tahir ul Qadri safely to his abode. The long march and Azadi march still loomed large though and in the days that followed there were battles fought both verbal and physical. It seemed everyone other than those at the helm of affairs were keen on trying to avert an all out civil war. Governor Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar remained largely neutral and as such his take on the matter was looked upon favourably by both sides but the deadlock remained. As the hour for long march approached it seemed the government decided on a carrot and stick approach to deal with the two forces pitted against them. With TUQ and his supporters they adopted a belligerent and front foot approach where as with IK and PTI supporters they afforded them some liberties. The capital is rife with rumors of horse trading and under the table deals but all this while it was the common man on the streets of Lahore that suffered gravely. Tahir ul qadri was being entrenched between containers and fortified positions laced with barbed fences. Residents were not allowed to leave nor enter large areas of Model Town. There were reports of people dying as a result of not receiving timely medical treatments and/or oxygen. ENTER Altaf Hussain. Still bruising from his investigations and jail ordeal a couple of months ago as well as suffering from ill health not many expected him to make any contribution in the current crises, once again he chose to surprise his detractors. Firstly by sending food and medical aid as well as milk containers to the besieged PAT workers men, women and babies, and following it by giving the government an ultimatum to remove all containers which was further fortified by a court ruling a few hours later leading to the government obliging to his demands.
In circumstances such as this, it is always the small pivotal moments that can determine the difference between a relatively smooth process and disaster striking. A political opportunist would have exploited such times with relative ease and allowed the government to take the proverbial axe to their foot by letting things run their course and letting stalemates transform into deadly clashes. Instead Altaf Hussain’s timely interventions defused the ticking time bombs on more than one occasion already. The crisis is far from over and the long march is on its way, (as I pen this article) it is too early to say what the outcome of this march will be. Whether it will be a flashpoint in Pakistani political history or a futile excursion by blinded supporters, but one thing is for certain. In time both the government and PTI (bitter political foes of MQM) will surely come to appreciate and owe a debt of gratitude to the man who emerged as an unlikely hero in the current political climate when all about him seemed to be loosing their heads.