Witnessing both Azadi March of Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaaf (PTI) and Inqilaab March of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) for three days was a great experience: It allowed me to comprehend the aspirations, thinking, trends and behavior of the followers of both these popular movements. One can draw many positive inferences from these large congregations. Protestors of both PTI and PAT are passionately chanting the slogans of change, revolution, reforms and civil disobedience, which touch the heart and souls of Pakistani people who are in utter frustration and deep disappointment when it comes to service delivery of current government.
Of the Zealous followers of sit-ins, at time one takes it is as two sides of the same coin, yet a closer look reveals that the two groups have more differences that commonalities. Though it is unfair to compare the diametrically opposed PTI and PAT sit-in, one is, however, compelled to draw a comparison when one moves from Inqilaab March to Azadi March. Even though they are ideologically too far apart, their physical proximity in Islamabad forces one to compare.
PTI Azadi March comprises largely young energetic, well-educated middle class, cross section of civil society, coupled with families and children staying in nearby hotels and personal accommodations in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, while PAT followers hail from different parts of Pakistan ranging Southern Punjab to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJKJ), are apparently from humble background, less educated, occupying verandas of the markets nearby, shades of local markets and tents, having greater affiliation with Tahirul Qadri (TUQ) PAT Chief popularly called among his followers “Qibla Huzoor” a name taken in respect.
PAT followers arrived from Madrassas (religious schools) arrived at sit-in on the stroke of time, are comparatively staunch, mature, immobile and relatively fixed having deeper spiritual affiliation with TUQ who vehemently challenges the very existence of the current political system and demands a complete revocation of it by revolting against the system. Surprisingly, TUQ stressed on the ideals of modern democracy like participatory governance, equal opportunities, accountability and empowerment but his followers seem very naive and oblivious to these ideals of modern democracy and never buy these concepts. Less concerned with the TUQ demands, his followers are highly disciplined, perceived as largely anti-system, revolutionary and believe in blind following of TUQ, least bother on the outcomes.
While PTI followers appear less disciplined and organized, they are desirous to bring reforms, address structural issues of governance which they name as Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) free of corrupt practices and family patronage in Pakistani politics. One of the important differences is, though IK has larger reforms agenda within constitutional boundaries but he blatantly targets the current government and Prime Minister (PM) sometime making unconstitutional demands. PTI March has a political orientation as IK has managed to pull over the crowed on political reforms, structural changes to ensure transparency in elections but largely his appeal is reeling between reforms and resignation of PM and is not taken as anti-system. Contrarily, TUQ despite being anti-system, loaded with religious appeal is less focused on the current government and seems to have a larger agenda on his table. While PTI Chief Imran Khan’s (IK) flamboyant crowed, having deeper attachment with charisma of IK is volatile, variable and relatively less fixed.
There is a sharp difference in the behavior of PTI and PAT followers since the latter are apolitical, disciplined, well trained and are controlled and seem well prepared for long sit-in, while PTI workers though are political, civically engaged and eager for political change but seem less disciplined, more flamboyant fun loving men and women and in search of speedy conclusions. They are less inclined towards prolonged sit-in. It is observed that a huge number of young people arrived in PTI sit-in from Khyber Pakhtun Khwa (KPK) province of Pakistan where PTI has its government.
One of the key similarities is that there is a deeper agony and disappointment from the current government in the followers of both PTI and PAT and they participate in sit-in by conviction and can never be termed as rented crowed. There is a greater commitment and passion of the both the marchers that they by conviction believe in Revolution and Naya Pakistan but none of them know about its execution and feel helpless when it comes to the road map of achieving both milestones. PTI has absolutely no match in using its modern political communication tools. Young people dancing on the tunes of national songs, Punjabi Bhangra, Pashtoo dance, literally electrify the whole crowed and in no time one witnesses the updates, visuals and snaps on social media, while TUQ crowed is far away from these communication tools. Undoubtedly PTI managed to involve and engage the educated well-off, class of society having a strong faith in what IK talks about. Therefore the much controversial number game in IK March is due to the presence of localites “Pindi-Islamabad” crowed which moves back to homes at night and come with in an ace of IK speech. PAT followers are static, entirely a different class having less interest and knowledge of modern communication tools, detached from social media and once in a blue moon play some religiously motivated songs mostly praising their chief “Qibla Huzoor” TUQ. National songs, play a vital role in keeping PTI crowed intact and energetic.
Like other mainstream political parties of Pakistan, PTI march is another failure when it comes to the organizing, and event management. From the day first, PTI local team was in tatters, having no plan for lodging and boarding of people. They left the people on their own at midnight and this drew a sharp criticism: There were not even any chairs, tents, food, or necessary toilet arrangements.
Within the PTIs hailing distance, in the other camp, there was an effective and efficient system of food distribution, washrooms, a medical camp and, of-course, a well-placed security system. It takes you by surprise that those who were off the beaten track and have less access to modern communication technologies are actually better prepared for the long haul. It seems PAT workers are well equipped, have a better plan, and prepared for a prolonged sit-in.
Religious movement and Parties in Pakistan are known for their effective event management and their workers are known for their efficient logistics and this time it was quite evident. Local leadership of PTI was mysteriously absent and so was the elected leadership of PTI from Islamabad on the first day.
It must be a very rare occasion in Pakistani politics when we witness the participation of women in such sit-ins. Both PTI and PAT have a fair women representation and they are there by conviction. Women participants from PAT hailing from different parts of the country are unflinching and more dedicated than men but none of the parties offered them a place at the stage. There is a greater vacuum of women voices in both PAT and PTI marches at the times when they have turned up in quantity and quality.
IK has repeatedly stressed to respect comfort and care of the women in PTI sit-in. which was a received as positive gesture. Women of PAT occupy separate place for themselves which is guarded and managed by volunteer women of PAT. There appear same class of women in PAT sit-in mostly coming from Madrassas or humble backgrounds but PTI has managed to gather women from all walks of life. From young university graduate to the university professors, medical doctors and corporate women, PTI has emerged as the party of educated, aware, resourceful and once disengaged class of Pakistani politics.
Casting his eyes over well prepared notes, undoubtedly TUQ has more control over his followers with always a card up in his sleeve than IK, as former has an art of playing with the nerves of his followers. Long lengthy scholastic and multilingual speech of TUQ attracts and motivates his followers but his followers are less interested in what he says but more adamant on making leap of faith and are unwilling to break the shackles of spiritual bonding. TUQ has managed to diversify his speech by challenging the core of system, giving narrative on terrorism, believing in making Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces of Pakistan, defining democracy, presenting the global view, extracting the best practices of governance from the world, vociferously talking about poor, but it seems a futile exercise for his less educated, religiously motivated and spiritually influenced followers who are unable to come out from his personality cult. Contrary to this IK who has a politically well aware and diverse following is unable to diversify his speech and with every passing second he is making himself more confused and ambiguous. His speech largely revolves around corruption, and with every passing second he is targeting the personalities and rigging issue. Had IK been able to diversify his speeches by talking of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) of KPK, terrorism, and security this could have added more to his credentials but his speeches are only ramblings by this point. This ambiguity is not looked upon as constructive; rather his volatile and less stable constituency appears to be a great threat to his political career. I witnessed a huge number of people leaving the sit-in when IK mentioned civil disobedience. It was a hullabaloo and people started leaving back to homes, which can be construed as manifestation of volatile young constituency that can lose its interest quickly.
It is a fact that both PAT and PTI have managed to bring up a new constituency of voters in line with other political parties in the wide open roads (Kashmir Highways & Soharwardi Road) of Islamabad. I differ with PTI about many issues, but it is a fact that they have been able to make themselves count. Despite staunch following, government is more concerned about feeble constituents of IK than TUQ. In the presence of highly electrified, charged, and motivated crowed of PTI, challenge to IK is obvious that he and his followers are now in search of honorable and dignified exit. Anything short of this would be disastrous for the government since political leadership always gets swayed with public sentiment and here sentiment of young energetic followers are not at all in favor of current government. Government should create a mechanism of a win-win situation where sense of achievement of PTI should not be undermined.
On the other hand system should not be derailed and there should not be a battle of nerves. Despite criticism, I strongly believe that presence of PTI in Pakistani politics is a positive addition at the times when there are plenty of back seat drivers in our political system. PTI is a recent phenomenon in Pakistan, it needs time to get mature, it deserves credit to engage the most politically disengaged class of Pakistan and is building the culture of accountability and challenging those old parties whose practices and ideals are noting but disengaging and disenchanting young generation from political processes.
No matter what the outcome of this sit in, Pakistan is witnessing a political change!